In Arizona, Tony Jefferson’s value is pretty well understood.
The safety put together a career season in 2016, where in 15 games he recorded 92 tackles — with 13 tackles for loss — along with two sacks, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three QB hits.
Originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Oklahoma in 2013, Jefferson was playing under a one-year contract signed as a restricted free agent signed after the Cardinals had offered him a low-round tender.
Now an unrestricted free agent, he is in line for a raise, though ESPN’s Rivers McCown believes he may not get what he’s actually worth.
In an Insider piece presenting the NFL’s five best second-contract sleepers, Jefferson is listed along with the Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson, Bengals’ Rex Burkhead, Packers’ JC Tretter and Giants’ Johnathan Hankins.
Of Jefferson, 25, McCown wrote that he is available in part because while the Cardinals want to re-sign him, they could turn to fellow free agent D.J. Swearinger to fill his shoes while also needing to look into a big contract for linebacker Chandler Jones.
What he does offer: What Jefferson brings to the table is a position that not every NFL team has embraced just yet: a fast guy who can tackle, rush the passer and play a little coverage on the side. Jefferson’s versatility makes him intriguing, but he’s not a plug-and-play guy in the way some front offices would approach him.
Put into a similar position as he was in Arizona, Jefferson is the kind of player who can help a defense schematically in a lot of ways. But because he’s not an easy fit at a normal position, I expect the market for his services will not be as kind as his agent would hope.
While Jefferson may not be a big name outside of Arizona, his name has consistently shown up on lists displaying the top free agents in this year’s market. He’s young and has been very productive on the field, while also being a leader on a team with one of the league’s better defenses.
Shortly after the season ended, Jefferson said he wanted to stay with the Cardinals, but understood that the NFL is a business and it’s possible he will end up somewhere else.
However it all plays out — teams are allowed to contact free agents starting March 7 and sign them to contracts on March 9 — Jefferson figures to have no shortage of suitors. The question at this point is how much they will be willing to offer.
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