The Baltimore Ravens lost a lot of talent from their defense this offseason, releasing former All-Pro safety Eric Weddle and watching outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and ZaDarius Smith and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley sign elsewhere in free agency. But it’s not just the talent that they brought onto the field that they lost. It’s also the leadership presence that they provided.
Weddle, Suggs, and Mosley were all critical figures in the Ravens’ locker room leadership, and while it’s natural for the deck to be reshuffled every so often—one can sense that there is a slow shift to the offensive side of the ball starting this season—that is still a lot to replace all at once.
One veteran player who has now been with the team for a couple of years believes he’s the right man to step up, and that is strong safety Tony Jefferson, who will now go from working with Weddle to working with Earl Thomas, who was Baltimore’s big free agent addition this year, signing the second-largest contract for a safety in NFL history (bested only by the one Landon Collins had signed earlier in the offseason).
“I’ve got to step in and be a guy for leadership”, Jeff Zrebiec quoted Jefferson of saying for The Athletic. “Weddle was a big presence back there, and I think I have the capability of being able to do that. Obviously, I’m not 12 years in the league how he’s been, but this is Year Seven for me. I think I’ve got a good grasp of what he’s given to the game and what he’s given to this organization. I’ve gotten an opportunity to watch him, and I think I’m in a good place for that”.
Jefferson spent his first four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, where he first broke out as a dimebacker. He recorded two interceptions and six forced fumbles during his time there, in addition to 273 tackles, including 20 tackles for loss. Since joining the Ravens, over the past two seasons, he has recorded two more interceptions and two more forced fumbles, adding another 153 tackles, now as a full-time in-the-box safety.
Right now, the secondary figures to be the strongest part of the Ravens’ defense. Aside from Jefferson and now Thomas at safety, they have among the best groups of cornerbacks in the league, including Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and starting nickel cornerback Tavon Young, who signed a lucrative contract extension this offseason.
It would make sense, then, if the leadership comes from the defensive backfield, and it could include somebody like Carr as well. Perhaps even Humphrey, though still young, could step up in some small way in this department. At the very least, he already has the respect and confidence of his teammates.