The Arizona Cardinals reportedly gave free-agent safety Tony Jefferson an "original-round tender," which gives the team the right to match any contract he receives on the open market.
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Jefferson Reportedly Hit with Tender Before Free Agency
Wednesday, March 2
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report reported the news Wednesday. Because Jefferson was an undrafted free agent, the Cardinals will not receive draft-pick compensation if he signs a deal they find unmatchable. This move simply makes the Oklahoma product a noncompensatory restricted free agent.
Jefferson, 24, made 78 tackles, two interceptions and forced three fumbles last season. He has started 15 games over the last two years, playing all over the defensive backfield and even some occasional linebacker. According to Football Outsiders' snap-count numbers, Jefferson was on the field for 72.2 percent of the Cardinals' defensive plays.
Considered a jack-of-all-trades, Jefferson became a vital starter in wake of Tyrann Mathieu's season-ending knee injury. While he's not sniffed a Pro Bowl or even started more than half of the games in a season, Jefferson has more than proved he belongs at the NFL level.
“I knew all along I belonged, because I knew what the type of player I was, and what type of players that were drafted when I knew I was better than them,” Jefferson said in January, per Kyle Odegard of the Cardinals' official website. “I never really doubted, but I didn’t know how it worked. I didn’t know, since I was undrafted, if I really didn’t have a shot. Me and my agent, we didn’t really know we were going to experience this, but we did, and I’m glad it’s working out the way it is.”
With Mathieu's recovery uncertain, it makes sense the Cardinals would want Jefferson back. They're already looking at the potential departure of unrestricted free agent Rashad Johnson, and Jefferson's departure would leave the depth chart bare.
The question will be at how much Arizona is willing to spend. Teams typically don't make hard pushes toward restricted free agents in the NFL, but Jefferson is a unique case because there is no draft pick attached. He can essentially be treated like a regular free agent, and teams that miss out on the top available safeties may wind up giving him a panic overpay.