What’s Next for Unsigned Jairus Byrd and the Buffalo Bills?

The Buffalo Bills did not sign Jairus Byrd to a long-term contract extension prior to Monday’s deadline for franchise-tagged players. (Photo: Mark Konezny — USA Today Sports Images)

BBD Editor: Dan Hope

Jairus Byrd’s NFL future remains in flux, and will continue to be uncertain throughout the 2013 NFL season. The Buffalo Bills will be unable to sign Byrd to a long-term contract until after the 2013 season, after failing to come to terms on a deal with their star free safety prior to Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

The Bills would certainly like to have Byrd, one of the NFL’s best players at his position, on the roster for many years to come. As far as the upcoming season is concerned, however, the Bills now must turn their focus to if and when Byrd will sign his one-year, $6.916 million franchise tender.

There is no deadline for Byrd to sign the one-year contract until Nov. 12 (following Week 10 of the NFL season). While he will be expected to sign that contract prior to the start of the season, he has the option of holding out and signing a prorated version of that contract at any point until that date, at which point he would become ineligible to play for the rest of the NFL season.

If the long-term outlook for a deal looks bleak, the Bills may have to prepare for life without Byrd next offseason. If Byrd does not sign prior to the 2013 season, however, it will be a massive and immediate blow to the Bills defense.

Will Byrd Play in 2013?

With the long-term negotiation window over, the ball for Byrd’s immediate future with the Bills sits in Byrd’s court. The Bills are privy to if and when Byrd decides to sign his franchise tender, as they can no longer offer him a new deal.

In the interest of sending a message to the organization or simply to avoid the dog days of training camp practice, Byrd could choose to hold out through part or all of training camp and the preseason. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted Sunday that Byrd’s situation with the Bills “shapes up as one that could drag into preseason, if not longer.”

That said, Byrd is likely to be back on the field for the Bills by Week 1 at the latest. If he were to would carry any holdout into the season, he would have far more to lose than to gain.

First and foremost, Byrd would give up $432,250 for each game he remained unsigned.

Secondly, Byrd will be playing in 2013 for the long-term contract he hopes to secure in 2014. While another season as one of the league’s best safeties would increase his value for next offseason, sitting out would only hurt his standing both in the eyes of the Bills and around the league.

Expect Byrd to continue playing at a high level in his second consecutive “contract year,” even though he may be unhappy about the short-term situation.

If Byrd makes a surprising decision to hold out when the season begins, it would be an enormous blow to the Bills secondary.

Byrd is arguably the Bills’ best defensive player. Without him in the lineup, the Bills would have to rely on either converted cornerback Aaron Williams or rookie Duke Williams to fill Byrd’s shoes at free safety, while the Bills already have a new starter at strong safety in Da’Norris Searcy.

Will Bills’ Future in 2014 and Beyond Include Byrd?

While Byrd’s holdout will likely come to an anticlimactic resolution at some point prior the 2013 season, the story of Byrd’s long-term future with the Bills is just beginning. The Bills are not ready for life without Byrd this season, but they may have to prepare for it next offseason.

According to WGRZ-TV’s Adam Benigni, Byrd has demanded a long-term contract that would make him the league’s highest-paid free safety. WGR’s Joe Buscaglia previously reported that Byrd was looking for a contract with similar numbers to the league’s two highest-paid free safeties, Eric Weddle (signed with San Diego Chargers for five years, $40 million, $19 million guaranteed in 2011) and Dashon Goldson (five years, $41.25 million, $18 million guaranteed with Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason).

As long as Byrd has another great season in 2013, he should get similar money on the open market in 2014. He is in the same class of elite safeties as Weddle and Goldson, and deserves to be paid at the same level.

If the Bills want to keep him next offseason, they are going to have to pay him at least market value. After being held to a franchise tag this offseason, Byrd is not going to give the Bills a hometown discount next offseason.

The fact that negotiations between Byrd and the Bills went nowhere this offseason is an indication that the Bills and Byrd were far apart on a deal. Benigni reported that the Bills offered Byrd a contract that would have made him the NFL’s fourth or fifth highest-paid player at his position, but that Byrd and agent Eugene Parker never countered the Bills’ offer.

According to Buscaglia, the Bills may not value the free safety position highly enough to give Byrd the contract he wants.

“Byrd is a good player. He definitely deserves to get paid at the top of the market,” a source told Buscaglia in the previously-linked article. “I just don’t think Buffalo is willing to cave to the demands that Eugene is making. That’s really what it’s boiling down to, and that’s why he didn’t get the extension they could have easily afforded to pay.”

Byrd seems unlikely to cave on his demands, and that is understandable. He is a premier player at his position with the ability to command major money on the open market, and the Bills deprived him of his opportunity to maximize his value this offseason. While the Bills may be a team on the rise, he will still have the possibility of ending up with a more successful team who is also willing to pay him more than the Bills are currently offering.

The Bills could franchise-tag Byrd again in 2014. They would have to pay him a salary of $8.299 million — similar to the average salary he would likely command in a long-term deal — in 2014.

Nonetheless, the Bills eventually have to make a decision to either pay Byrd what he is worth, or move beyond him at the free safety position. That decision should happen next season.

At this point, it seems that the Bills may be ready to move in a different direction at the free safety position after the 2013 season. The Bills and Byrd did not meet on Monday prior to the deadline, according to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News. It appears that at least one side moved on well before Monday from long-term negotiations, and bringing those negotiations back together next offseason could be difficult.

Additionally, the Bills drafted two safeties this year in Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks, which may have been done in part to prepare for Byrd’s potential departure next offseason.

In his first four seasons with the Bills, Byrd has proven to be everything the Bills hoped when they selected in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. He is likely to take the field with them again for a fifth season, but Monday’s lack of action could be another step toward Byrd taking his talents elsewhere in 2014.

Tags: 2014 NFL Offseason, Aaron Williams, Duke Williams, Franchise Tag, Free Safety, Jairus Byrd

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