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Cardinals’ low offer, Weddle’s recruitment led to Tony Jefferson joining Ravens

Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham (88) has his pass knocked away by Arizona Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson (22) during the first half of a football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Former Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson earned his money.

By signing a four-year, $34 million contract ($19 million guaranteed) with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason, the work he put in during his first four years in the NFL — all with Arizona — was validated.

But Jefferson’s free agency period was admittedly an anxious time, and in a story by MMQB, Jefferson told reporter Andy Benoit during the uncertain process that the Cardinals had “low-balled” him with an initial offer.

“The very first offer, which was disrespectful, was three [years] for $12 [million], with $6 million guaranteed. We didn’t even reply to that. And then about a month and a half ago, they offered the four [years] for $24 [million], $12 [million] guaranteed. What they told my agent was they wanted to show they were serious.”

During an interview on NFL Network on Thursday with time having passed him by, Jefferson took a different tone.

“I wasn’t offended. I mean, anytime you get an offer in this league, you got to be happy or excited. It just wasn’t in the ballpark, I should say, where I felt it should be,” he said of Arizona’s offer.

The reality, however, was that Cardinals general manager Steve Keim didn’t have the money to pay the safety coming off his best season of 96 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two sacks.

Cardinals GM Steve Keim told The MMQB via e-email, “In my time in the league there’s not a player that I’ve been more proud of than Tony Jefferson… The unfortunate reality of the business of course is that you can’t keep all of your good players. But it certainly doesn’t diminish the great affection and high regard we will always have for Tony.”

Thursday, Jefferson said one of the Ravens’ biggest recruiting tools was 32-year-old safety Eric Weddle, a four-time Pro Bowler who played his first year with Baltimore in 2016 after spending 2007-15 with the San Diego Chargers.

Jefferson, who is seven years younger and grew up watching Weddle in San Diego, said the opportunity to play with a safety he respected so much ended up sealing the move.

“Defense, man. I got a chance to talk to (Eric) Weddle a little bit through the process,” Jefferson told NFL Network. “He’s been a guy who’s been a real help through the process. Helped with my decision on that. I’m real excited.

“We’ve been working out and he’s been keeping me in line but at the same time, I’m excited about this tandem,” Jefferson added. “It was definitely a difference-maker, being able to watch Eric Weddle last year who played at a very high level, was rated a number one safety by Pro Football Focus. That was real huge to me.”

The Cleveland Browns were also in the mix to land Jefferson in free agency and reportedly offered him more money than the Ravens.

Jefferson confirmed that was the case.

Why didn’t he take the money?

“I don’t play football for money,” he said.

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