BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The Buffalo Bills haven’t added any new talent through the first seven hours of free agency, but they’ve already lost their marquee free agent from their 2013 roster. Jairus Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowl free safety who the Bills opted against franchise tagging for a second consecutive year, has been signed to a six-year contract by the New Orleans Saints.
According to a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Byrd’s contract is worth $54 million total with $28 million guaranteed. While the year-to-year structure of the deal remained unreported as of midnight Wednesday, his total contract value, guaranteed money and per-year salary all rank highest among all NFL safeties (and as such, are all-time records for the position), according to Spotrac. His signing bonus is reportedly $11 million, according to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, which would be the second-highest among NFL safeties, per Spotrac.
Although the Saints defense improved in 2013, its first season led by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, it has continued to rebuild this offseason. After first cutting ties with some of its older or underperforming players including safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans’ addition of Byrd adds an immediate playmaker to bolster a talented young defensive core.
The Bills, who had reportedly made a long-term contract offer that Byrd had not rejected prior to the start of free agency, must now fully accept Byrd’s departure. Though Buffalo loses one of its best defensive players as a result, the expected result allows the Bills to seek other free-agent acquisitions without being handicapped by a lingering offer that would carry a heavy cap hit.
While it seemed Byrd was already destined to leave Buffalo, his decision might have ultimately come down to the money, record-breaking money that the Bills might have been unwilling to commit to a safety.
Source tells me Bills’ best offer to Jairus Byrd was a yearly average of about $7.5 million.
— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) March 12, 2014
Beyond that, it would be hard to blame Byrd for what one might consider to be greener pastures. While the Saints have made the playoffs in four of the last five NFL seasons, the Bills never won more than six games in any of Byrd’s five seasons with the team. If Byrd strives to win a Super Bowl, he has a better opportunity with the Saints, at least in the short term.
In Buffalo, it’s time to turn to the contingency plan at safety. With Byrd out of the mix, strong safety Aaron Williams could move to free safety or at the very least, become the centerpiece of Buffalo’s secondary after signing a four-year, $26 million contract extension last week.
As for the team’s other starting safety spot, there are still plenty of options available, as BBD’s Joe Marino detailed last week. Duke Williams and Da’Norris Searcy are valid options already on the roster to be promoted to starting roles. The free agent market has dwindled quickly at the position, but one remaining option could be Chris Clemons, an underappreciated but productive safety from the Miami Dolphins. Additionally, the Bills could use a draft pick, though it probably would not be their best move in the first round, to add another safety to the mix.
Byrd’s departure will likely have a noticeable impact in 2014, as the Bills aren’t simply going to be able to replace his presence with a single player. Nonetheless, adapting to life without Byrd will just be one aspect of Buffalo’s continued defensive renovation as new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz determines how to best fit his scheme with the Bills’ personnel.