The Buffalo Bills elected not to place the franchise tag on soon-to-be free agent safety Jairus Byrd ahead of Monday's 4 p.m. deadline, the team announced on Monday. Unless the two sides can come to an agreement on Byrd's value in the next eight days, Byrd will hit the open market.
According to recent reports, the chances of a long-term deal being signed ahead of free agency are slim. Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Buffalo reported on Sunday that the Bills had made a "substantial" offer to Byrd, and presumably, he didn't sign it.
Later Sunday afternoon, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora came in with this:
The Bills offer to Byrd woulve made him 1 of highest paid safeties in the NFL in 1st 2 yrs of deal. They'll continue to work on a new deal— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 2, 2014
"It's a negotiation," Whaley said, via BuffaloBills.com. "We still have some time to get it done so we're not closing the door on it. We're hopeful. We're optimistic, but we'll see where it goes from here."
Byrd was hit with the franchise tag last offseason, and he held out of training camp until August 20, when he finally signed the deal. He then missed the first five games of the season with plantar fasciitis, and the Bills were open to trading him while he was out, but he came back and played well in the final 10 games, tying for the team-high with four interceptions and allowed a passer rating of 35 on throws in his direction.
He has expressed his desire to be the top paid free safety in the NFL since last year's failed negotiations, and that hasn't changed. Negotiations were off to a good start this time around, according to reports, but it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
The Bills do not feel the safety position is worth top dollar.
"It's important. I think depending on scheme, in this scheme talking to [defensive coordinator Jim] Schwartz, safety is going to be important a lot because of the communication and how he sets the back end of the defense and gets all the checks and balances from the sidelines," said Whaley. "It's an important part, but would it be the top rated piece I would start the defense? No, but it's in the mix. I think you'd have to go defensive end and corner before you go safety."
The Bills have around $25 million in cap space to work with right now, and although Byrd could be the highest-paid safety multiple years in a row, he apparently wants more, and he can probably get it. Byrd would be arguably the best free-agent safety available this year, along with Browns safety T.J. Ward, 49ers safety Donte Whitner and Colts safety Antoine Bethea.
Plenty of teams need a top-flight free safety this offseason, including the Jets, Dolphins, Colts and Raiders, and all have the cap space to sign Byrd if they want.
There are some alternatives available in free agency, including the Dolphins' Chris Clemons, or they could turn over the keys to Duke Williams, a fourth-round pick in 2013, or to Aaron Williams, who converted to safety from cornerback last offseason.
Safeties like Byrd don't become available too often, and Byrd is one of the rare safeties with the coverage ability, sideline-to-sideline speed and ball skills to be deployed as the single high safety in Cover 1. He can also hold his own in man coverage.
Losing him would be a big blow to a defense in transition. Head coach Doug Marrone has expressed concern over the consistency in the secondary, and the Bills could be dealing with a retooled group along with a brand new scheme.
They could sure use the help of one of the most scheme-versatile safeties in the NFL, but that doesn't seem to be enough of a concern for the Bills to change their stance on his value. Unless that happens soon, it looks like Byrd could be finished in Buffalo.
The author is solely responsible for the content.