Tony Jefferson gets emotional reflecting on 'long road' to Ravens

Tony Jefferson's introductory press conference with the Baltimore Ravens on Friday was filled with laughter, from how Eric Weddle recruited him on Twitter to running back Danny Woodhead nicknaming him "Jeffy" before they got on stage.

But when Jefferson made his first comments, his voice started to shake as he became overwhelmed by the moment.

"It has been a long road," Jefferson said. "I told my mom I would not get emotional up here, but it was not easy."

Jefferson's long road to Baltimore goes beyond his cross-country flight from his San Diego home. In a span of four years, he went from an undrafted rookie looking to make the roster to one of the most sought-after players in free agency.

In 2013, Jefferson left Oklahoma after his junior year believing he had a second-round projection. But he hurt his hamstring in the pre-draft process and watched 254 picks get announced without hearing his name.

This offseason with the Arizona Cardinals, he established himself as one of the best safeties in the league with his hard-hitting style, ability to cover tight ends and keen football intelligence. Jefferson was ranked No. 20 on ESPN's list of top free agents.

His reward? Jefferson went from earning $405,000 in his first season to signing a four-year deal that averages $9 million per season and reportedly includes $19 million guaranteed.

"I am so excited to be a Raven," Jefferson said. "I cannot thank you guys [the Ravens organization] enough. I do not know if words can express what you guys have done for me and my family."

Jefferson, 25, was the Ravens' top target among other teams' free agents and became Baltimore's first addition. Team officials saw him as an upgrade to Lardarius Webb, the fifth-longest tenured Ravens player, who was cut one day after Jefferson signed.

Last season, Jefferson made his mark on a star-filled Cardinals secondary by leading Arizona with 92 tackles along with two sacks, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. His 13 tackles for loss led all defensive backs in 2016 and marked the most by a defensive back since the stat began being tracked in 2008.

"He is an ascending player," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "You are really lucky when you can get a player at the age of what Tony is and then get to watch him mature as a man and mature as a football player. That was attractive to us."

The Ravens were equally attractive to Jefferson. He previously said he received offers from the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets that were worth $1.5 million more per season than the Ravens' offer. And he still chose to come to Baltimore.

Jefferson explained that he loves to win and believes that's part of the foundation of the Ravens, who are the sixth-winningest franchise since John Harbaugh became their coach in 2008.

"My love and passion was matching this organization," Jefferson said. "Free agency is cool, like the first day once you see who is interested in you. After that, it is like, ‘I cannot take this anymore!’ But like I said, I chose the right spot. I went with my heart, my gut."