Because the Buffalo Bills and safety Jairus Byrd couldn't come to an agreement on a long-term deal last summer, as the 2014 free-agency period approaches, the two parties again find themselves in an awkward situation.
For the Bills, arguably their most productive defensive player isn't under contract for the upcoming season. In 11 games this past year, Byrd reeled in four interceptions and finished as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) No. 8-ranked safety.
For Byrd, he's clearly come one of the elite players at his position, and though he was paid a hefty $6.9 million for his services in 2013 on the franchise tag, right now, he, technically, doesn't have financial stability moving forward.
Bills team president Russ Brandon recently said the following on the Byrd situation, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
It's a process and there's no carryover. You start over again and you try to get something done. We just weren't able to come up with a solution that worked for both parties, so you reset it and start again.
We all are hoping to get a deal done. And we're going to do the exact same thing this time, work our tails off to try to get another one done.
The AP added this: "Brandon said the team maintains 'great communication' with Byrd and his agent, Eugene Parker, and said there are no lingering hard feelings from talks last year."
That's precisely how the Bills should approach the second go-around with Byrd and his notorious agent.
They must start fresh with the impending free-agent safety, seeing as though he's a year older and each side has film and statistics from the 2013 season to bring to the negotiating table. Buffalo must make a concerted effort to get a long-term contract done.
Byrd's cemented himself as one of the rangiest free safeties in the NFL. It's really difficult to debate that.
But to pay around $10 million in base salary and upwards of $25 million guaranteed—which would exceed the five-year, $41.25 million deal with $22 million guaranteed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave Dashon Goldson in 2013—wouldn't be the best way to allocate that money.
Remember, Byrd reportedly "demanded" last July to be the league's highest-paid safety:
While many believe teams should pay their own—meaning players they drafted—to set a precedent that outstanding play will be rewarded with commensurate money, that practice can have the opposite effect.
Doug Whaley, now in his first full year as Buffalo's general manager, doesn't want to set the precedent that he can be worked over by an aggressive agent, ultimately cave and overpay to retain a player.
He began his tenure as GM by not budging, and even if what he's willing to pay to keep Byrd in Buffalo has changed, he must not exceed the financial limit he sets.
With the rookie contracts of Marcell Dareus and Aaron Williams expiring after the 2014 season and C.J. Spiller set to be a free agent the year after that, the Bills front office must establish in its negotiations with Byrd a pattern of not mortgaging the team's future through unwise spending.
Also, Buffalo's brass must realize and utilize the leverage it has.
Frankly, Byrd was very fortunate during the 2013 campaign.
After refusing what for him was a monetarily unsatisfactory contract—a five- or six-year deal with approximately $20 million guaranteed—that offered relatively excellent job security, the former second-round pick was, in theory, one serious injury away from losing a considerable amount of money on the free-agent market.
It gets to a certain point when the job-security aspect of signing a long-term deal should be prioritized over a few extra million in yearly compensation or guaranteed dollars.
Then again, Byrd and Parker might believe they'll be able to get the contract they want on the open market—and they'd probably be right.
However, if the Bills and Byrd's camp can't agree on a new contract by 4 p.m. EST on March 3, Buffalo could hit him with the franchise tag again—this time worth $8.3 million—which would drastically limit his possibilities of signing a multi-year deal elsewhere.
At that point, any other team attempting to snag Byrd would be forced to surrender two first-round picks in exchange for the safety unless the Bills decided to match said team's offer—both unlikely events.
If Byrd signed his tag, he could be traded for a negotiable compensation. In the end, though, the tag would guarantee Buffalo something in return—likely a high draft pick or two "lower" ones—for their prized safety.
Byrd's a fine player, and he deserves to get paid good money. The Bills need to get a long-term deal done, but they have to set limits which they can't exceed at any point of the negotiation process. If they weren't willing to make Byrd the highest-paid safety in football in 2013, it's hard to envision them doing so in 2014.
Buffalo's front office members initially must be open-minded but ultimately firm with their stance on Jairus Byrd and use all the power vested in them by the most recent collective-bargaining agreement along the way.
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