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Restricted free agent Tony Jefferson: ‘Who would want to leave Arizona?’

LISTEN: Tony Jefferson, Cardinals free agent safety

The Arizona Cardinals secondary will look a little different in 2016.

Veteran leader Rashad Johnson has moved on, signing a one-year contract with the Tennessee Titans after the Cardinals, according to him, made no attempt to bring him back.

Another veteran, Jerraud Powers, is an unrestricted free agent and though he has received little interest in the open market, it appears he won’t be back in Arizona for a fourth season.

The case of safety Tony Jefferson is a little more curious. The former undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma just completed his third year in the league, and it was his best. Jefferson had 78 total tackles and two impactful interceptions. The first he returned for a touchdown in a Week 2 win over the Chicago Bears. The second came in the closing seconds of a Week 7 Monday night win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Despite an excellent year, the Cardinals gave Jefferson the low restricted free agent tender, meaning his salary would be $1.67 million for 2016 and he could become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Another team can make an offer to Jefferson, and the Cardinals would have the opportunity to match it and wouldn’t receive any draft compensation if they don’t.

No offer has come, leading Jefferson to believe he’ll be back in the desert for another year.

“I wouldn’t think so,” Jefferson responded when asked by Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Doug and Wolf if they should be worried he’ll be playing somewhere else next year. “You don’t want to get yourself locked into long-term deals where you don’t even like your salary, and you’re unrestricted next year, so you have a chance to make more money.

“It’s tricky, but at the same time, who would want to leave Arizona, especially after we’re a game away from the Super Bowl? It’s not like I’m looking to get out, but at the same time, there’s a business aspect.”

Ah, the “business side.” It’s one of those terms that pops up every offseason in the NFL — whether related to roster cuts, free agent signings or perceived low-ball offers.

Jefferson isn’t a fan of that side of the sport.

“I hate it, I hate that aspect of it,” he said. “I play football, that’s what I like to do. That’s what I’m good at and I just wish it wasn’t so much business, but it is, so you’ve got to buy in according to that.”

While there is disappointment in the restricted free agent process, Jefferson is keeping a positive attitude through it all.

“You’ve got to stay positive, because this league can tear you down,” he said. “At the same time, I beat the odds. I was undrafted. I’m going into my fourth year and I just turned 24, so there’s still time on the clock.

“Like I said, I like to play football. The money side of it is great, obviously. But at the same time, I’m playing football as my job, and I can’t really complain. I’m just blessed and I’m glad I’ve got the opportunity to play this game.”

Jefferson has until April 22 to sign the Cardinals’ tender offer that would keep him in Arizona for the 2016 campaign.

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