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Could Tony Jefferson return to Baltimore?

Some are wondering if the vet will return

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports

With the release of safety Earl Thomas, speculation has begun as to possible players the Ravens could sign to help minimize the loss of the future Hall of Famer. Among the potential options for Baltimore include former Ravens safety Tony Jefferson.

Jefferson spent the previous three seasons with Baltimore after signing a four-year, $36 million contract with the team in 2017. Jefferson suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Steelers in Week 5 of the 2019 season, making it his last known game as a Raven. His release saved the team $7 million.

Jefferson was heavily criticized by fans after his play failed to match his lofty contract. Excelling close to the line of scrimmage with the Cardinals, Jefferson had to learn to evolve his game as a safety when he joined Baltimore. The Ravens’ defense asked Jefferson to do much more than he was accustomed to in Arizona, most notably coverage responsibilities.

Jefferson quickly became one of the leaders of the defense and one of the most liked personalities on the team, however. Regarding the release of Jefferson, general manager Eric DeCosta had the following to say in a press release: “This is the worst part of this business. Tony is the consummate teammate and someone who is respected by everyone for his leadership, determination, humility, and toughness. He’s a friend to all and a true Raven. We know he’s going to beat this injury, and we will be cheering for him all along the way. We wish the very best to Tony and his family.”

Jefferson has not been shy in expressing his love for the Ravens’ organization, even after being released by the team. After chatter began about Jefferson being a potential target for the Browns after it was announced that rookie second-round pick Grant Delpit would miss the 2020 season with a torn Achilles, Jefferson rebuked the notion.

Jefferson turned down more money from Cleveland when he first signed with Baltimore, so this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The question regarding a potential reunion between the Ravens and Jefferson regards usage. Chuck Clark took over for Jefferson last season and never looked back. Clark signed a three-year extension following his first season as a starter and has been cited as one of the leaders of the defense now. Third-year DeShon Elliott will get the first crack at replacing Thomas at FS, a role which Jefferson isn’t suited for anyway, although Baltimore uses their safeties interchangeably without clearly defined roles.

Clark often played in the box when the defense was in the dime package last season, with Brandon Carr replacing him on the back end. With Carr no longer on the team, Clark could remain on the back end while Jefferson takes over his dime role. It’s unknown if Jefferson would be willing to accept a non-starting role or even a relatively cheap contract, but given his love for the Ravens, it’s certainly a possibility.

In his three seasons and 35 games played Baltimore, Jefferson had 174 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, seven QB hits, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, 11 passes defended, two interceptions. Jefferson’s PFF grade 70.2 in 2017, 72.4 in 2018, and 53.1 in 2019 before getting injured.