The Buffalo Bills lost one of their most important pieces on defense when coordinator Mike Pettine became head coach of the Cleveland Browns, but they could be making strides to signing their most important free agent.
According to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, the preliminary talks between the Bills front office and free agent safety Jairus Byrd have been "pleasant so far."
Compared to last year's cold war between Bills senior vice president of football administration Jim Overdorf and Eugene Parker, Byrd's agent, this should be viewed as an encouraging start. Byrd wants a long-term contract extension that pays him fair market value. When the Bills used their franchise tag on him last year, he was denied the opportunity to find out what the NFL thought he was worth. With Byrd frustrated and both sides playing hardball, they rarely spoke and failed to reach a multiyear deal.
There's still the possibility that the Bills could use the franchise tag on Byrd as a bridge to a long-term deal — but after using it on him in 2013, the Bills would have to pay him 120 percent of the salary cap if they want to do so for a second consecutive year, as per the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Based on early estimates for the franchise tag, that number could be around $9.7 million for Byrd this year.
The Bills would be foolish to let him hit the open market.
Byrd is considered one of the best free safeties in the NFL. His skills make him a rare commodity, as one of the few safeties that has the sideline-to-sideline range to sit back in Cover 1 as the lone deep safety. He also has exceptional ball skills, with 22 career interceptions and 33 passes defensed.
Based on contracts given to some of the other top safeties over the past few years, sports contracts website Spotrac projects Byrd to be paid an average of roughly $8 million per year for five years, with $18 million guaranteed.
If the Bills roll over all of their cap money, they should have around $25 million to spend this offseason. That should give them plenty of room to get a deal done for Byrd.
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