Instead of leaving anything up to chance in free agency, the Buffalo Bills are taking steps to ensure one of their best defensive players from 2012 will still be in the fold next season.
Safety Jairus Byrd was set to hit free agency, but the Bills are going to use their franchise tag to gain exclusive negotiation rights and keep him in Buffalo for at least one more season.
UPDATE: Friday, March 1, 2:03 p.m. ET by Ethan Grant
The Bills have confirmed Adam Schefter's report and have announced that Byrd is in fact the choice for their 2013 franchise tag. Here's the Twitter post from the team's official account:
---End of update---
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Bills have used the franchise tag on safety Jairus Byrd.
After reports leaked earlier in February (via John Wawrow of the Associated Press) that Byrd and the Bills were expected to meet at the 2013 NFL combine, it was fairly certain that Buffalo was going to do everything possible to meet its safety's salary demands.
With the two sides apparently not close enough, and the March 4 deadline looming, the Bills aren't taking any chance on losing a key component to the future of their defense to free agency. They played the NFL's ultimate trump card on Friday, and now won't have to worry about other teams preying on his services.
After releasing fellow safety George Wilson earlier in the offseason (via ESPN), it became apparent that Buffalo had backed themselves into a corner with Byrd. Rather than rely on Mana Silva and Da'Norris Searcy full-time, or be forced to use multiple draft picks on secondary players in April, the Bills were widely expected to retain Byrd before he ever got to the open market.
The franchise tag accomplishes just that.
According to Wawrow's piece, the Bills are now on the hook for at least a one-year salary in the $5.89 to $6.79 million range to retain his rights. That being said, there's a good chance this move is just a buffer to have exclusive negotiating rights on a long-term deal.
The 26-year-old Byrd was a second-round draft pick in 2009, when Buffalo took the former Oregon star 42nd overall. Starting 11 games as a rookie, Byrd made an immediate impact, collecting nine interceptions and 11 passes defensed.
He's been a stalwart on the defense since then, playing in all 48 games over the last three seasons (44 starts). Byrd had another solid campaign in 2012, leading the team in interceptions—with five picks—while also collecting four forced fumbles and 76 total tackles.
His stellar '12 campaign made him an obvious choice for the AP All-NFL Second Team, and Byrd also received his second invite to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for the AFC (he also went in 2009).
There are still holes to plug on Buffalo's free agency-ravaged defense, but retaining the rights to Byrd was priority No. 1 for the Bills this offseason. It keeps him in a Buffalo uniform next season and makes a slew of interested teams disappointed that they won't get a chance to bid for his services.