Cardinals Free Agent Preview: Tony Jefferson

Tony Jefferson had a great year, but he’s now a free agent

One of the great stories from the Arizona Cardinals 2016 season was the ascendance of Tony Jefferson. He had his best year as a professional so far, and gained national attention. Many thought he deserved to be a Pro Bowler, though he didn’t make the team.

With the season over, Jefferson’s career is at a crossroads. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent, signed by the Cardinals after the 2016 NFL Draft. Now, after four seasons in Arizona, he’s once again a free agent, free to sign wherever he wants.

Jefferson’s numbers were solid this year. He set a career high in tackles, and added two sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and five passes defended. He didn’t record an interception, but that would be a minor nitpick at an otherwise terrific season.

Prior to this past season, Jefferson signed a one year contract for just under $1.7 million. He’ll cost a bit more in 2017, and he has earned a big raise. He’ll likely earn three times that much, or more, next season, wherever he plays. Cardinals fans hope it’s still in Arizona.

The Cardinals gave up the fourth fewest passing yards in the NFL in 2016, and were tied for eighth in touchdowns surrendered. Jefferson was a big part of that, holding his own in coverage, and putting pressure on opposing passers as a blitzer.

There are some potential problems with bringing him back. First, and foremost, is the sheer number of free agents the cardinals have to deal with this offseason. Chandler Jones and Calais Campbell are both in line for huge deals, and they’d like to keep both of them. They also have to deal with several of their role players.

Another issue is the money they are already spending on the secondary. Patrick Peterson’s deal will pay him $13 million next year, and Tyrann Mathieu’s new contract will pay him over $8 million. The Cardinals might decide to go with a cheaper option and spend that money on another position.

The time for the decision on Jefferson is still a ways off, so there’s plenty of time to debate it. There’s no doubting that he made a big impact in Arizona, but sometimes difference-makers get away. Fans will be keeping a close eye once free agency starts officially.

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