Are We Seeing the Last of Jairus Byrd with the Buffalo Bills?

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Are We Seeing the Last of Jairus Byrd with the Buffalo Bills?
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Will Jairus Byrd be flying away from Buffalo for good this offseason?

How valuable is Jairus Byrd to the Buffalo Bills defense? 

That's the short version of an amalgamation of questions surrounding the future of the Pro Bowl safety with the team that drafted him in the second round in 2009.

A lot has transpired since then. Byrd has more interceptions (22) than any other NFL safety in that span, including a whopping nine in his rookie season. His four interceptions this year are tied with three others for the team lead despite Byrd missing five games with plantar fasciitis.

His playmaking ability means he won't come cheap, and with the Bills lacking abundant salary-cap space for 2014, his days in Buffalo may be coming to an end.

He's at least open to the idea of returning.

"I've always said all along I want to be where I'm wanted and if it's here then great," said Byrd, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. "I am definitely excited just to win games. I've been here for four years so my heart is definitely here and wanting to win here and finish what you start."

Byrd has played the 2013 season on the franchise tag, valued at $6.916 million this season. The Bills could, in theory, tag him again in 2014, but that would be an expensive proposition. According to NFL.com, "a player tagged a second straight year would have his number set at 120 percent of the previous figure."

That would mean that Byrd would cost roughly $8.299 million for the 2014 season. With roughly $15.5 million in cap space currently available according to Spotrac, the Bills would be parting ways with over half their spending money for next season.

A one-year deal isn't in the cards regardless. They might have considered it, given the injury-shortened season and his holdout prior to the season, but if they want to bring him back, their best bet would be to do so on a long-term deal that would both satisfy Byrd and spread his cap hit out over several years instead of having it all at once.

When it comes time for the negotiations, though, there could be some sticking points.

For one, the Bills defense wasn't much different without him than with him.

For further context, the Bills yielded 261.4 passing yards per game and 6.6 yards per pass attempt without Byrd and 223.1 passing yards per game and 6.6 YPA with him.

Byrd may be one of the best playmaking safeties in the league today, but his impact on the Bills secondary has been minimal. The Bills defense has been aggressive in getting after the quarterback this season, and that has allowed the secondary to play a bit more aggressively.

The Bills were making life miserable for opposing passers without Byrd at the beginning of the season; now the question is whether that disruptive style of play can be sustained beyond this season. The team might consider covering its bases in the event that the pass rush isn't creating as much pressure as this year. 

After all, the safety position is one of utmost importance in the scheme of Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

"He's got great instincts," said Leonhard, according to Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. "You don't get the amount of interceptions that he does without great instincts and an understanding of what offenses are trying to do to you. That's the first thing that impresses me, and the thing that he probably doesn't get enough credit for is the way he tackles. He comes up and hits, he can cover, he's a complete safety, he can really do it all."

Besides, who are the fallback options?

Snaps for Bills safeties, 2013
Player Snaps Snap %*
Da'Norris Searcy 702 63.7
Jim Leonhard 560 54.2
Duke Williams 36 7.2

Pro Football Focus (* = % of snaps in games played, not total defensive snaps)

The Bills drafted safeties Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, in 2013. The logic behind those selections may have been to provide insurance in the event that Byrd left the nest. Unfortunately for the Bills, they didn't get much of a look at those players this season. Instead, they gave playing time to veteran Jim Leonhard and converted cornerback/safety Aaron Williams.

Williams proved himself to be a solid strong safety in the process, but the Bills have a question mark on the other side should they choose to move on from Byrd. In a way, that's a situation they created for themselves by not giving more playing time to the younger guys on the roster.

Byrd has been one of the best playmaking safeties in the league for years. He is worth close to that kind of money; if the Dolphins gave safety Reshad Jones a four-year, $29.36 million contract extension this offseason based on what he had done up to this point, there's little debate that Byrd can draw top dollar and deservedly so. That may not be enough.

At over $9 million, the Bills just don't have that kind of money, unless Byrd has changed his stance on his worth.

If the Bills trust their system, they can get by without Byrd. Given their salary-cap restraints, they may not have another choice. 

 

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.

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