The first restricted free agent tender of the offseason has been assigned to Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson, a source tells Matt Miller of Bleacher Report (Twitter link), who adds that Arizona offered Jefferson the lowest tender. If he signs the tender, Jefferson will be paid $1.671MM for the 2016 season.
By giving Jefferson the lowest tender, the Cardinals are opening themselves up to seeing Jefferson poached by another club. If a competing team signs Jefferson to an offer sheet, and Arizona declines to match, it would only be entitled to original round compensation. But because Jefferson was an undrafted free agent, the Cardinals wouldn’t receive a draft pick in return if Jefferson opts to sign elsewhere.
Joining a new NFL club is certainly on the table for Jefferson, and according to Rand Getlin of NFL Network (Twitter link), the Texans are a “team to watch,” as they are on the hunt for an upgrade at safety. Houston saw four players — Andre Hal, Eddie Pleasant, Quintin Demps, and Rahim Moore — rotate through the safety positions last season, and as I noted in my preview of the Texans’ offseason, the team could look to add another contributor in the secondary.
It’s a bit surprising that the Cardinals would tender at Jefferson at the lowest level, as the 24-year-old has been solid in the defensive backfield during his three seasons in the desert. He’s appeared in all 48 possible games, starting 17, and played on more than 70% of Arizona’s snaps last season. The production has been there, too — Jefferson graded as the No. 18 safety among 88 qualifiers in 2015, per Pro Football Focus.
Cap space is something of an issue for the Cardinals, to be sure, as they rank 20th with about $19.3MM in reserves. And the club does have other free agents to re-sign, including Jefferson’s secondary mates Rashad Johnson and Jerraud Powers. But the second round tender is only valued $2.553MM, not even $1MM more than the original round tender, and likely would have come with enough of a draft pick cost attached to dissuade other suitors. For $882K, Arizona is risking the loss of a valuable option in the secondary.
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