Ex-Cardinals, Ravens Safety Would Be Perfect Addition for 49ers

tony jefferson

Getty Free agent safety Tony Jefferson.

While the NFL continues to work towards its return, the San Francisco 49ers still have areas they could address before training camp competitions.

One of which is at safety, which has been a topic of much discussion in recent weeks after New York Jets safety Jamal Adams listed the 49ers as a preferred landing spot.

While pulling off that kind of deal would be a challenge for general manager John Lynch and the San Francisco front office, it would also be a serious upgrade over strong safety Jaquiski Tartt.

Tartt, alongside free safety Jimmie Ward, had a fine season, but was often seen as the weakest link on the 49ers. Adams is an All-Pro level player, but San Francisco might be priced out by the Jets.

However, one proven safety that wouldn’t cost the 49ers an inordinate amount would be former Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens safety Tony Jefferson, who was cut from Baltimore this offseason after suffering an ACL tear after five starts in 2019.

While the Ravens have decided to move on from Jefferson due to the rise of Chuck Clark, the 49ers may be in the perfect place to benefit.

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Jefferson’s Career

After three seasons as an Oklahoma Sooner, the Chula Vista, California native went undrafted in the 2013 class, eventually earning his way onto the Cardinals roster.

Jefferson earned two starts in his rookie year before growing into his role in Arizona, earning 15 total starts over the next two seasons.

However, in 2016, Jefferson took over the starting job at strong safety for the Cardinals, totaling two forced fumbles, two sacks and a career-high 96 tackles.

His performance in 2016 earned him his second-NFL contract, joining the Ravens on a four-year, $34 million contract. Jefferson wasted little time making an impact, earning 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and starting all 16 games.

After another successful season in 2018, the 28-year-old suffered his ACL tear in Week 5 of 2019, ending his season and eventually his tenure with the Ravens, who decided to roll with Clark on a three-year extension.

One might have expected Jefferson to be signed fairly quickly in free agency, but the combination of the injury as well as his previous contract has seen the safety hit late July without a team.

Jefferson’s Cost

The obvious major benefit that Jefferson has as an FA is that it wouldn’t take any draft capital to acquire him. If the 49ers were still in February or March, Jefferson would likely ask for an extensive amount of money.

However, with time ticking down to the 2020 regular season, Jefferson doesn’t have nearly the leverage. Whether he’s unsigned because of a lack of interest or broken negotiations, the simple fact of the matter is that he’s unsigned.

And for a proven starter still teamless in late July, the 49ers must appear fairly attractive after putting together a team with the potential to win a Super Bowl.

Jefferson likely couldn’t be signed for anything close to his league minimum, $930,000 a year, but the 49ers could look to a deal somewhere in the range of $2-5 million and laced with incentives so that they can take a chance on earning competition for Tartt, but also not financially commit too much in a time when cap space is already tight.

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Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the San Francisco 49ers for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.

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