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Browns express interest in impending free-agent safety Tony Jefferson

By Nate Ulrich Published: March 8, 2017

Click the link for an updated version of this story: Safety Tony Jefferson expected to sign with Ravens after Browns pursued him, according to reports

Safety is a glaring need for the Browns, and they're targeting one of the NFL's better players at the position.

The Browns have expressed interest in Arizona Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson, a league source said Wednesday. Jefferson is an impending unrestricted free agent, and the Browns are desperate for stability at safety after starting five players there last season.

The NFL's free-agency negotiating period opened at noon Tuesday, but player contracts cannot be executed with new teams until free agency begins at 4 p.m. Thursday.

NFL Network reported the Browns have offered Jefferson the most money by far. Browns veteran players talked to Jefferson and other soon-to-be free agents in recent days in hopes of recruiting them, per the network.

Jefferson, 25, is sure to have other suitors, though. The Baltimore Ravens are in the mix, NFL Network reported. The New York Jets are also expected to court him, according to NJ.com.

Last season, Jefferson started 14 of the 15 games in which he appeared and compiled 96 tackles, including two sacks, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles. It was his first season as a full-time starter.

He started seven of 16 games in 2015 and racked up 78 tackles, including two sacks, five passes defensed, two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown and three forced fumbles. He started eight of 16 games in 2014 and finished with 79 tackles, including one sack, a pass defensed and a forced fumble.

As an undrafted rookie from Oklahoma in 2013, Jefferson started two of 16 games and had 24 tackles.

ProFootballFocus.com ranked Jefferson 13th on its list of the top-50 free agents. NFL.com ranked him 13th on its list of the top-101 free agents.

Here is how PFF describes him: "A former undrafted free agent, Tony Jefferson has developed into an excellent strong safety and box defender for the Cardinals, and this past season, he earned a PFF run-defense grade 98.0. Jefferson recorded 35 defensive stops, third among all safeties, and missed only five tackles, less than half the figure of either of the players to better him in defensive stops. Jefferson has been solid in coverage close to the line of scrimmage, and would be a solid upgrade for teams looking for an upgrade at the position."

FirstCoastNews.com reported the Browns are expected to pursue Jacksonville Jaguars strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, but, according to the report, their interest will likely be impacted by the availability of Jefferson.

Cyprien, 26,  has started all 60 games in which he's appeared the past four seasons. He started 16 games last season and compiled 127 tackles, including one sack, with four passes defensed and a forced fumble.

Cyprien is 30th on PFF's list and 44th on NFL.com's rankings.

The Browns have about $102 million in salary-cap space, more than any other team, so it's not surprising that they have been linked to several impending free agents.

NFL Network reporter Michael Silver, a close friend of Browns coach Hue Jackson, mentioned Cincinnati Bengals right guard Kevin Zeitler, Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner as players to watch in connection with Cleveland. Wagner has since agreed to a deal with the Detroit Lions worth more than $9 million per tear, NFL Network reported.

The Houston Chronicle reported the Browns are among several teams interested in Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye. The Texans want him back but are concerned about the possibility of losing him to the Philadelphia Eagles, according to ESPN.

Several teams showed strong interest in Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk, a Cloverleaf High School graduate and 2016 Pro Bowl selection, a league source said.

ESPN reported the Browns were among them, but Juszczyk plans to sign with the San Francisco 49ers. Juszczyk will receive a four-year, $21 million deal from the 49ers, according to NFL Network.

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