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Tony Jefferson left his heart in Baltimore, but his chance is with the Giants

Veteran safety rejoins defensive coordinator Wink Martindale in New York

Baltimore Ravens v Arizona Cardinals
Tony Jefferson
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Tony Jefferson knew the score. He knew he had become a spare part with the Baltimore Ravens.

  • The Ravens had let him go after the 2019 season, bringing him back for the second half of the 2021 season after the San Francisco 49ers let him go.
  • The Ravens drafted safety Kyle Hamilton No. 14 overall and signed veteran safety Marcus Williams to a five-year, $70 million contract.
  • Chuck Clark, a starter at free safety for Baltimore since 2019, wasn’t going anywhere.

There was, as they say, no room at the inn.

“They had drafted a safety in the first round. They paid another safety $70 million. Chuck Clark was part of the defense. So, they wanted me back for practice squad and basically be there for insurance,” Jefferson said.

So, in his ninth NFL season Jefferson faced a choice. Practice squad for a franchise he loved, or cut the cord and take his chances. The 30-year-old cut the cord.

“I have to be honest, that is family over there (Baltimore), from front office down to the players, everybody. So it was very tough for me to make that decision,” Jefferson said earlier this week in the Giants locker room. “My heart has always been there. So that was tough for me. But being able to come here now it’s like, everybody’s so open and welcoming here. A lot of young guys who’ve mentioned they’ve watched me when they were in college. Makes me feel old. I’ve had a good, I guess, week so far since I’ve been here.”

Jefferson also joined a team where his former Baltimore defensive coordinator, Wink Martindale, is now running the defense.

Jefferson said he “immediately” jumped at the chance to join Martindale when he found out the Giants were interested.

“I mean, I’ve been with Wink since 2017. We had the opportunity to be the No. 1 defense in 2018. I had the mic, the headset in 2019. So me and him, we have a pretty good relationship. Not even just on the football field, but off the field. He’s my type of guy. We just kind of have the same thought process when it comes to being on the field and what type of players he likes,” Jefferson said. “I think when I was making that decision, I knew going somewhere where I knew the system like the back of my hand would help me get what I want, which is to play football.”

Taking in the city

It might seem kind of amazing after nine years in the league with the Ravens, 49ers and Arizona Cardinals, but Jefferson said the last time he played in MetLife Stadium was in 2014. He said when he arrived he really knew nothing about the New York-New Jersey area.

“I’ve been pretty wide-eyed. I haven’t really had a chance to ... I played in MetLife in 2014, but I can’t really remember much about all that. And I really didn’t get to do anything ... It’s (New York City) just historic.”

When he hasn’t been re-connecting with Martindale and learning his new team, Jefferson has doing what newcomers do — taking in the sights.

“I went to the city and got to be a tourist, really. There’s a mall right here in Jersey. This is Jersey, right? American Dream,” Jefferson said. “My kids (7-year-old son Tony Jefferson III and 2-year-old twin girls Alaya Lissette and Jayla Marie) are gonna love that mall. There’s a water park in there. Legoland.”

Jefferson signed with the Giants on Sept. 1, and said his time thus far has been “cool.”

“I get to put on a New York Giants helmet. Look at that,” Jefferson said, placing an appreciative hand on the Giants helmet hanging in his locker. That’s a good looking helmet. So I’m just excited. Whatever happens happens as far as playing, but I just want to go out there and put my best foot forward and be me.

“Just being in this facility is — I look around on the walls and you see all the historic players in the franchise. It’s surreal to me. Actually, I never thought I’d be up here.”

Where does he fit?

Jefferson joined a Giants’ team with budding star Xavier McKinney and first-time captain Julian Love as starters. With fourth-round pick Dane Belton as — hopefully — a piece of the future. Also, though, a team with a need for veteran depth in the secondary.

Jefferson is part of the Giants’ practice squad. Considering that Belton (clavicle) is unlikely to play on Sunday and that Jefferson will know the defense far better than backup safety Jason Pinnock, a recent waiver claim, it seems like a good guess that Jefferson could be one of the Giants’ two practice squad elevations for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans. After that, could a spot on the 53-man roster be far behind?

“Hope so,” said Jefferson.

Jefferson was Martindale’s defensive signal-caller for Baltimore in 2019 before being injured. He has obvious leadership qualities. He is not, though, planning to push himself or his views on how things should be done, on anyone.

“I think for the most part, being a new guy, I just kind of want to get adapted here first. I want to adapt to their culture. I just bring my personality and who I am to the table and just add to that. I’ve got a lot to prove,” Jefferson said. “I never as a new guy want to come in and do this and do that. I kind of just want to adapt to the culture here and be a listener for the most part, and then like I said, just bring my personality where it fits in.”

Jefferson knows, though, that he can be a sounding board for McKinney. Since, of course, he has walked in the shoes McKinney now occupies.

“He’s gonna be great. I can tell that just by his demeanor. He’s already leaned on me a few times, asked questions even about having the headset mic. What were some tough things that were happening during game play,” Jefferson said. “I think just being around him for what I’ve got(ten) to see instead of what I got to hear he’s everything that everyone’s talking about. I’m very excited about his growth.”

Jefferson seems excited about everything when it comes to being a Giant.