BBD Editor: Dan Hope
Jairus Byrd’s time with the Buffalo Bills could be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
The free safety is signed to a one-year, $6.916 million franchise tender after failing to reach a long-term contract extension with the Bills this summer. The restrictive franchise tag might not necessarily keep Byrd in Buffalo all year, however. Byrd and his agent, Eugene Parker, are trying to engineer a trade from the Bills before the NFL trade deadline, according to a report from Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.
If the Bills can get good return value on Byrd, they may be smart to grant his wish.
Byrd has expressed displeasure over the failed negotiations — he told the media upon his return to the team that he was “hurt” and “disappointed,” according to Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (USA Today Sports). The Bills cannot attempt to negotiate a long-term deal with Byrd again until the end of the 2013 season due to franchise tag restrictions, but they could trade him.
The Bills stood strong and didn’t cave to Byrd’s demands during the contract negotiation process. If their stance remains unchanged, the Bills are more likely to decline trade offers than give Byrd the trade he covets.
That said, the Bills might be logical to change their stance.
Realistically, the Bills are not going to be a significant contender this season. While a new coaching staff and franchise quarterback are giving hope to Bills fans, the Bills are still very much a team in transition. Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and new head coach Doug Marrone are sure to have some growing pains, while the team has a number of other significant areas of concern including the left guard and cornerback positions.
Meanwhile, another reality is that the Bills are unlikely to ever sign Byrd to a long-term contract, given the displeasure he and his agent already appear to hold with the organization. Sure, the Bills could franchise Byrd next season, but the Bills are more likely to be a contender in 2015 and beyond. It is unlikely that Byrd will ever play for the Bills at a time that they are back in championship contention.
Trading Byrd would certainly affect the Bills on the field this season. The Bills already have one of the NFL’s weakest secondaries as a result of their other star defensive back, Stephon Gilmore, being out with a fractured wrist. In a starting secondary that should otherwise consist of Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks (or Justin Rogers), Aaron Williams and Da’Norris Searcy, the Bills desperately need Byrd on the field.
In the big picture, however, keeping Byrd is highly unlikely to be the difference between making or missing the playoffs this season. Adding Byrd to the lineup isn’t going to salvage the Bills’ poor cornerback play, nor will it change the fact that Manuel’s NFL experience is limited to three quarters of preseason play.
Byrd’s on-field value to the Bills this season could also be limited by his battle with plantar fasciitis. Byrd told the media Thursday that he is battling pain in both of his feet, according to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News. Byrd has been limited in practice this week according to the team’s official injury report, leaving him questionable for Sunday’s season opener versus the New England Patriots.
As a franchise trying to move forward and build a long-term contender, the Bills need to fill their franchise with players who have bought into the team’s long-term direction. If Byrd is unsatisfied with the Bills and a long-term deal is not in the cards, the Bills would be better off getting value for him while they still can rather than hanging onto him for another year or two.
The return value itself, however, is a deciding factor in whether or not the Bills should trade Byrd. The Bills would have not only find a suitable trade partner, but also receive a return value that makes the move beneficial to the Bills long-term.
Appropriate value, in my opinion, would be a second-round draft pick. While Byrd’s talent as one of the NFL’s elite safeties would make him worth a first-round pick, his injury concerns and his restrictive one-year deal (which would put any team who trades for him at risk of losing him next offseason) lower his trade value.
The other issue is finding a team that would make that deal. Only 11 teams have the salary cap space to trade for Byrd, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
That said, a number of could certainly be in the market for a safety upgrade, including the Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles, notably, traded a first-round pick and two additional draft picks to the Bills in 2009 for offensive tackle Jason Peters, also a Eugene Parker client in a contract dispute at the time.
If one of those teams were to offer a second-round pick or a package of equal or more value, the Bills should make the deal. It would allow the Bills to move on from what looks to be an ongoing situation with Byrd, while they could add a valuable draft choice to make another investment in what the Bills hope to be a bright future.
If the Bills are offered less than that, this may become a moot point. On one hand, the Bills risk losing Byrd for nothing next offseason, all to have him on a team this year that does not have nearly as much potential for success as next year’s team will. That said, by simply caving to trade demands and taking less value just to trade Byrd, the Bills could put themselves at a disadvantage in future negotiations while also trading away one of the league’s best players at his position without getting anything significant in return.
Either way, Byrd is unlikely to be the free safety of the future for the Bills unless either side drastically changes their position next offseason, which means the Bills will eventually have to adjust to life without him. If the Bills can get a return deal in which the long-term benefits overweigh the short-term drawbacks, they should accelerate that adjustment process and make a trade.
Update: Parker has denied Gaughan’s report, telling WGRZ’s Adam Benigni that there is “no truth to the rumor we are actively seeking a trade at this time.”