Landing one of the most coveted free agents this offseason, the Saints have signed safety Jairus Byrd to a six-year deal.
The Saints announced the deal on Tuesday:
ESPN's Adam Schefter provided the financial terms:
Saints are giving former Bills S Jairus Byrd a six-year, $54 million contract, including $28 million guaranteed, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2014
Byrd had this to say about the Saints (via NOLA.com's Larry Holder):
Byrd: “We played against the Saints this year and I saw their style of play and was impressed by it. I think I will fit well in the scheme."— Larry Holder (@LarryHolder) March 12, 2014
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport discussed how this deal will impact the Saints' salary cap space:
Wondered how #Saints could fit Jairus Byrd into their cap. With an $11M signing bonus over 5 years, cap hit should be around $4M in year 1— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 12, 2014
There was little doubt Byrd would be a hot commodity this offseason. He's one of the best safeties in the league and was the cream of the crop in the 2014 free-agent market.
Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei spoke with league sources who raved about Byrd's ability:
"He has great instincts and ball awareness," a personnel director said. "He's a leader back there. When the ball is in the air, he finds it."
He also is the only potential difference-maker of the unrestricted free agents who aren't tagged, according to five front-office men I spoke with.
"There aren't many like him," said one NFC high-ranking exec. "Athletic play-making safeties are hard to find."
The Buffalo Bills had the option of franchise-tagging Byrd for the second consecutive season, but that never seemed a strong possibility after all the problems created by the one-year tender he received from the team last year. He held out for a short time before eventually returning in August.
That drama may have served to seal Byrd's fate when it came to his long-term future in Buffalo. Even some of his Bills teammates saw the writing on the wall.
Byrd also tweeted out this message back in December:
I also appreciate you fans, you all have been great during my time here.— jairus byrd (@jairusbyrd) December 30, 2013
There was a lot of doubt cast on his future in Buffalo when it was reported that the Bills weren't going to use the franchise tag on any of their potential free agents, per Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer:
#Bills GM Doug Whaley's statement on S Jairus Byrd: “We’ve chosen not to use the franchise tag on any of our impending unrestricted FAs”— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) March 3, 2014
That decision essentially signified the Bills' proverbial waving of the white flag, conceding that Byrd would be playing his football elsewhere in 2014.
Byrd, 27, made the Pro Bowl for the third time and second year in a row in 2013 despite missing five games. He has also been named an All-Pro in each of those campaigns (2009, 2012, 2013).
As a rookie in 2009, Byrd tied for the league lead with nine interceptions, demonstrating his ball-hawking skill set and knack for making plays. In 2012, he tied for the AFC lead in interceptions (five). He also had 76 combined tackles and four forced fumbles.
Byrd's numbers saw a slight dip in 2013 (48 combined tackles, four picks), but that was mostly due to a foot injury that kept him out for the first five games of the season. Once he returned against the Cincinnati Bengals, he immediately returned to form as an impact player on the defensive side.
With a full season in 2014, Byrd should continue taking steps forward. He has another three or four seasons of elite-level performance before his decline occurs at a more rapid rate.
Until then, New Orleans will have an anchor in the secondary.