Franchise Tag or Long-Term Deal, Bills Must Hang onto Safety Jairus Byrd
There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and that the Buffalo Bills will not allow safety Jairus Byrd to walk away in free agency.
Not, at least, if they have any common sense.
It's as easy as putting the franchise tag on Byrd and accepting the $6.4 million cap hit that comes with it. Byrd would be getting paid the average of the five top safeties in the NFL, which is clearly favorable for the Bills when you consider that Byrd is at least one of the three best players at his position.
It's so obvious, in fact, that ProFootballFocus.com called it a "slam dunk" that Byrd would be hit with the tag:
Speaking of All-Pros, Byrd earned the starting free safety spot on our team after grabbing five interceptions and allowing just 16 receptions into his coverage all season. He was no slouch against the run either, where he recorded stops on 9.8% of the snaps on which he lined up within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage. In a division where stopping Tom Brady is still priority No. 1, the Bills won’t lose one of the best defensive backs in the game.
The franchise tag would prevent him from hitting the open market, where he would have no problem finding a team that's willing to throw top dollar at a player considered to be one of the safest free agents in this year's class.
Keep in mind, Byrd is just 26 years old. His age only adds to his value; whichever team gets him can be sure they'll be getting the best he has to offer.
He is fully aware of his value, and because of that, Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com said in early January that Byrd would probably like to test the open market:
As for Byrd I get the sense in my conversations with him that he wants to test the free agent market. I worry that the Bills may have to make use of the franchise tag to keep him. The projected tag amount for safeties in 2013 is $6.4 [million].
At his age, this may be the only chance he gets to cash in on a long-term deal, depending on how long this next deal is for. A four-year deal would put him at 30 years old on the back end, and teams may be wary of signing him to a long-term deal at that point in his career.
The Bills must then reach a long-term agreement with their star safety. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's scheme calls for safeties who are great in coverage, and Byrd fits the bill. Former Jets offensive tackle Damien Woody shared his thoughts on Pettine's defensive scheme, including why good safeties are important, with Tim Graham of The Buffalo News:
In that defensive scheme it's about corners, safeties, cover guys. ... They like to bring rushes from everywhere. So I'm sure a play-maker like Jairus Byrd is not going anywhere.
The secondary does a lot of disguise, a ton of disguise. They play a lot of man-to-man. ... If those guys can cover, it allows Mike Pettine to draw those exotic blitzes. That's one thing you really haven't seen from Buffalo. It hasn't been an exotic-type blitz team. That's what you're going to see out of Buffalo, but you need guys who can cover.
Regardless of what front the Bills will run in 2013 and beyond—and Pettine's history suggests they'll run a mix of everything—they'll need talented guys on the back end.
The Bills are in a position with the salary cap, with around $20 million in space, that they could give Byrd a nice package of guaranteed money and keep him around for the long term. In the immediate future, however, there's absolutely no reason to not at least put the franchise tag on him.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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