The Buffalo Bills front office has a big challenge ahead of them over the next two weeks to sign Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd to a long-term contract. They were not able to come to terms last year but thanks to the franchise tag they have another chance this year.
The franchise tag did not sit well with Byrd as he held out for the majority of the offseason and signed the contract shortly before the start of the season. It is hard to believe the parties involved want to go through the offseason like last year, but what if the two sides are not able to reach an agreement on a long-term deal?
Can the Bills really afford to let Byrd walk away as a free agent this offseason?
The simple answer is: no.
If the Buffalo Bills are not able to reach a deal with Byrd, they will have no choice but to use the franchise tag on their starting safety for a second year in the row.
Financially, the Bills could make it work but it would really hinder any other moves they hope to make. A one-year contract under the franchise tag would cost the Bills 120 percent of Byrd's 2013 salary of $6.9 million. This means that next year he would be making more than $8 million, which would eat up a great deal of Buffalo's cap space of $18 million, according to the NFLPA.
The next hurdle for the Bills if they use the franchise tag would be to get Byrd to buy into playing in Buffalo another season under a one-year deal. He was clearly unhappy to be playing under the franchise tag last year, evident by him sitting out all of training camp. He then missed the first five games of the season with a plantar fasciitis injury.
Last year, Byrd made it clear he wanted to be the highest-paid safety in the game according to WGRZ’s Adam Benigni (h/t Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke). This stance probably hasn't changed much after being selected to his third Pro Bowl in five years. This past season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he finished second in quarterback rating against (35.0), fifth in completion percentage against him (50%) and eighth among safeties in overall rating (9.9).
Even if the Bills are not ready to make that kind of financial commitment to him, the franchise tag is still the logical choice. It gives the team two basic options heading into 2014: get one more year of service out of him or trade him.
If they keep him for the 2014 season, the Bills are almost guaranteed he will walk after the year and they will not receive anything in return. On the trade market, though, Byrd would most likely generate a lot of interest for teams looking for a safety.
NFL teams are given a two-week window, from February 17 to March 3, to decide whether they wish to use the franchise tag on their own potential free agents. This gives Buffalo two weeks to work out a long-term contract with Byrd and his agent, Eugene Parker, at which point it will have no choice but to use the franchise tag.
There is still a lot to be decided over these next few days but one thing that should already be decided is if, come March 3, there is no long-term deal struck, the Buffalo Bills have to use the franchise tag on Byrd.