Fixing their options at inside linebacker was a priority for the New York Giants entering 2023 NFL free agency. So far, so good, after Big Blue agreed a deal with Bobby Okereke from the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, March 13, on the heels of also bringing Jarrad Davis back for another season.
Davis may be joined by another would-be Giants’ free agent if safety Tony Jefferson’s conversion project goes to plan. Jefferson, who also played for Giants’ defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale with the Baltimore Ravens, told ESPN’s Jordan Raanan “he plans to add 10-15 pounds this offseason and convert full-time to linebacker.”
As Raanan highlighted, Jefferson played linebacker at times last season for the Giants. Notably, during Week 15’s 20-12 road win over NFC East rivals the Washington Commanders, a decisive victory in helping the Giants reach the playoffs.
Jefferson wasn’t out of place at the linebacker level, but making the switch permanent may not be enough to earn him a second season with Big Blue. Not when the Giants have acquired new faces at the position, while fellow safety Landon Collins can also play in the box.
‘Wink’ Martindale Favorite May Be Fighting a Losing Battle to Stay With Giants
Collins and Jefferson being versatile enough to drop down from the secondary and play closer to the line of scrimmage proved invaluable late last season. They became de facto linebackers to cover for injuries and inconsistent play at the position.
Both fared well, with Collins proving an asset against the run more than once, including on this play against the Commanders, highlighted by Nick Falato of SB Nation’s Big Blue View:
Both Collins and Jefferson added a physical edge to the Giants defense, with the latter also providing strong knowledge of the Martindale playbook. Jefferson’s justified reputation as a thumper, along with his scheme fit, might have made him a lock to return to MetLife Stadium, but subsequent moves cast doubt on his future.
Those moves include the decision to re-sign Davis on a one-year deal. That was quickly followed by general manager Joe Schoen agreeing a four-year contract worth $40 million with Okereke, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
Jefferson may have missed the boat with the Giants, but the timing of his position switch could be just right for other teams still searching the veteran market for linebacker help.
Veteran’s Versatility Will Help Search for New Home
Converting to linebacker will improve Jefferson’s value on the market, and he’s already “let teams know” about the switch, according to Ben Standig of The Athletic:
Today’s NFL defenses often used safeties as part of the front seven, thinking they have a better, more versatile athlete for pass coverage. Jefferson’s background as a defensive back should help him land a spot on a new team during free agency.
Although he’s currently 218 pounds, adding 10 more to his frame won’t limit Jefferson’s range or speed in space. That’s going to be an asset to defensive play-callers who like to use nickel personnel in base-down situations, which is most coordinators in the league in 2023.
What’s interesting from the Giants viewpoint is how they might play things if there’s a decision to be made between Jefferson and Collins. The latter is the more impactful player, as well as a favorite of the organization, but Jefferson’s history with Martindale could prove decisive.
Martindale knows he’ll need depth players he can trust behind Okereke and Davis. Since his other options are Jaylon Smith and 2022 fifth-round draft pick Micah McFadden, Martindale might hope the Giants see fit to bring Jefferson back for another year.