It was reported in the evening that the Baltimore Ravens, barring some unforeseen negotiating snag, are in line to reach an agreement at the 4 PM opening of free agency with Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson, generally regarded as a hybrid linebacker or ‘moneybacker’, given that some game books list his position as $LB.
While the Ravens are not among the teams with the greatest amount of salary cap space, they recently cleared some room by releasing two players from their secondary, including safety Kendrick Lewis. Lewis was brought in to be a starter a couple of seasons ago but quickly fell out of favor. Cornerback Shareece Wright was also released.
According to some sources, among them Ian Rapoport, Jefferson is electing to go with the Ravens over other teams, most notably the Browns, in spite of the fact that Cleveland put more money on the table in order to lure him in. Surprising the Browns are not an attractive free-agency destination quite yet.
It’s unclear what this means back in the secondary. The Ravens obviously spent money to bring in Eric Weddle last season. He is on the books for a cap hit of close to $6 million in 2017 and is obviously not going anywhere.
Their other starting safety as of last season was former cornerback Lardarius Webb, who has a $7.5 million salary cap for the 2017 season. The Ravens could save $5.5 million in cap space if they were to release him, which has been discussed as a possibility.
In 15 games during the 2016 season, Jefferson recorded 96 tackles for the Cardinals in addition to a pair of sacks, two forced fumbles, and five passes defensed. Over his four-year career, he has recorded 277 tackles with five sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions, and 11 passes defensed.
You are obviously not getting a center fielder, Ed Reed-type of safety if you are looking at Jefferson to plug into your defense, but he is an incredibly valuable piece that offers flexibility in an era of football that now pretty much requires as much from at least a couple of your starting defenders.
One of the most intriguing things about Jefferson as a desirable free agent is that in spite of the fact that he already has four seasons under his belt, he only just turned 25 in January, so he has plenty of football left in front of him and further room to grow.
Assuming that nothing goes south in the deal with the Ravens between now and the start of free agency, I will admit that the football fan in me will be intrigued to see how he plays in Baltimore’s defense, and, frankly, how he matches up with the Steelers’ offense—not that Pittsburgh hasn’t seen him before.
A Landry Jones-led comeback took down Jefferson’s Cardinals in 2015 at Heinz Field. He recorded five tackles in that game, only one of which was a ‘stop’.
The Ravens are still bracing for multiple free-agency losses, with two expected to come at 4 PM with their fullback whose name I don’t feel like trying to spell right now and Ricky Wagner agreeing to deals on principle. They have also been busy with the release of Elvis Dumervil to boot.