BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot
BBD Editor: Dan Hope
With Monday’s franchise tag deadline fast approaching, the Buffalo Bills have a major decision on one of their team’s best players, free safety Jairus Byrd. While the Bills and Byrd are reportedly involved in “pleasant” contract discussions, according to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, Buffalo might be forced into the choice of either franchise Byrd for a second consecutive season, or letting Byrd walk, if no resolution is made by the weekend.
Typically, franchising a player of Byrd’s caliber would be an easy decision, as he is one of the NFL’s best players at his position and should receive top dollars if he does reach the open market. In this situation, that decision is not as obvious.
After the Bills tagged Byrd last season, relations between the two parties became tenuous and Byrd held out until right before the start of the season. Should they tag him again, Byrd will be owed $8.43 million, a slight increase from the 20-percent raise he would otherwise be owed due to the increase in the NFL salary cap, and could certainly become unhappy with the team once again.
Nonetheless, the Bills still plan to tag Byrd if necessary, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.
The #Bills still want to do a deal with S Jairus Byrd. If not, I’m told they plan to franchise tag him. Won’t let him get away for nothing
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 22, 2014
UPDATE (Sunday 1 p.m. ET): WGR 550′s Joe Buscaglia reported Sunday that the Bills are now unlikely to tag Byrd after making him a “substantial” offer on a long-term deal.
I’m hearing the #Bills explored all their options including a trade of Byrd and now they’re unlikely to tag him.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) March 2, 2014
On Friday, when it still appeared that Byrd would ultimately be tagged, Ryan Talbot and Dan Hope discussed whether that would be the right move. Ryan Talbot said the Bills should tag him, but Dan Hope thought the Bills would be smart to proceed with caution.
Yes, the Bills Should Tag Jairus Byrd
The Bills’ best option is to re-sign Byrd long-term, but if a deal cannot be struck with the safety, it’s time to tag Byrd for the second consecutive year. The $8.43 million cost is a pretty fair price for both parties, and there are several reasons why the Bills should go this route.
Simply put, Buffalo’s defense was better in 2013 when Jairus Byrd was in the lineup. In 11 games, Buffalo’s defense gave up an average of 22.2 points with Byrd in the lineup, two points less than Buffalo’s actual total for the season (24.3). That total would have ranked 13th among all NFL teams in 2013.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave Byrd a +9.9 rating last season, the eighth-best among all NFL safeties.
Byrd is one of Buffalo’s premier players and he is simply someone the Bills cannot let walk away. By tagging Byrd, the Bills give themselves a few options.
First, the Bills give themselves some extra time at the negotiation table. If negotiations are in fact pleasant and Byrd is willing to sign long-term, it doesn’t hurt to tag him while the two sides work out final details. It would be a smart play by Buffalo, as they would have until mid-July to work out a long-term deal with Byrd.
A tag-and-trade is another scenario for the Bills to explore. Buffalo could attempt to trade Byrd for a pick or picks in a very deep draft, or keep him on the roster until the actual NFL trade deadline. If Byrd flies the coop, it’s important that the Bills get something in return.
The last scenario for the Bills to explore is to simply tag Byrd and have him play out the 2014-2015 season. Buffalo wouldn’t be allowed to negotiate an extension with Byrd in-season, but having the safety in a Bills uniform one more year would keep the Bills from having to fill his void early in this year’s draft. Byrd might not be happy with this scenario, but he’d likely be professional enough to groom his predecessor during the season.
- Ryan Talbot
Bills Should Proceed with Caution on Byrd
With no other marquee free agents, the Bills are expected to use their franchise tag on Jairus Byrd for a second consecutive season. Doing so makes sense, as it extends the window of time that the Bills could sign Byrd to a long-term contract or trade him to another team. The Bills should only franchise tag Byrd, however, if they are fully confident that one of those outcomes will occur.
As Ryan suggested, signing Byrd to a long-term contract would be ideal, but expecting it to happen still seems like an overly optimistic move for the Bills, considering the bad terms last year’s negotiations ended on. A second consecutive franchise tag is likely to only increase Byrd’s discontent, so the Bills better make significant progress this weekend, or be prepared to compromise with Byrd’s camp, if it still intends on keeping Byrd in the fold.
The most realistic option might be a trade, and for that, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the Bills should simply let his walk. Even without a guarantee of a long-term contract, it is likely that Buffalo could still net at least a mid-round selection in exchange for the tagged safety, which would be a better resolution for Buffalo than getting nothing in return.
What the Bills should completely avoid, however, is the option of keeping Byrd on a franchise tag for a second consecutive season.
It’s not about the money, although paying $8.43 million to Byrd would shrink Buffalo’s estimated salary cap space to about $17.24 million—with free agency and the draft yet to occur—according to numbers from OverTheCap.com.
It’s about moving forward. Realistically, the Bills still look to be two or more seasons away from contention. As the Bills continue to look for young talent and build toward the future, the last thing they should want is an overpriced veteran on a one-year deal who doesn’t want to be there.
Even if he is bound to the Bills by the franchise tag and not traded, he won’t necessarily play for the Bills, or at least for the whole season, in 2014. Considering he held out until the beginning of the season last year, it would seem realistic that he might opt to extend his holdout into the season should negotiations turn south after a tagging.
Losing Byrd would hurt Buffalo in 2014, but how much does that matter? It’s unlikely that signing Byrd would be the difference between making or not making a playoff run this season, and if the Bills are unable to sign him to a long-term extension for a second consecutive year, there’s almost no chance whatsoever that he would return in 2015.
In fact, playing Byrd while only having him one year could be an impediment to the team’s future. While inserting a young player such as Duke Williams into the starting lineup could be a big drop-off in 2014, the experience gained by Williams, Jonathan Meeks, Da’Norris Searcy or possibly a drafted safety could put a young safety in better position in 2015, when Byrd will only be in Buffalo should he sign a long-term contract this offseason, and when the Bills will likely be in better shape to truly contend.
The Bills probably should place the franchise tag on Byrd if that’s what it comes to, but they shouldn’t sit back and wait for things to happen. Instead, the Bills should aggressively pursue a long-term contract extension and/or a trade, to bring a resolution to a situation that has gone on longer than either the team or Byrd would have liked.
- Dan Hope