The 2014 NFL free-agent market was solidified Monday with the passing of the 4 p.m. ET franchise tag deadline, and one of the league's top safeties will be available after not being tagged by his team.
Three-time Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd was a prime candidate to be franchise tagged by the Buffalo Bills this offseason for the second year in a row, but the club has elected to let him test out free agency after failing to come to an agreement on a long-term contract:
General manager Doug Whaley spoke to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com about the team's position on Byrd:
We have negotiated with representation for Jairus Byrd for more than a year, but have yet to reach an agreement on a contract extension. We remain open to getting a deal done with Jairus, but we have chosen not to use the franchise tag on any of our impending unrestricted free agents.
Brown gave his take on what the move means for Byrd and the franchise going forward:
Among the other clubs with the cap space to sign Byrd, and a need at safety, are Cincinnati, Cleveland, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Miami, Oakland and Philadelphia - four of which will be on the Bills 2014 schedule.
Byrd is a three-time Pro Bowl safety, who leads all active NFL safeties with 22 interceptions since 2009.
Buffalo’s other impending unrestricted free agents include K Dan Carpenter, DL Alex Carrington, TEScott Chandler, S Jim Leonhard and LB Arthur Moats.
Now the 5'10", 203-pound Byrd figures to be in for a nice payday on the open market as a 27-year-old with good ball skills and consistent tackling ability. His biggest asset, though, is his playmaking ability, as he has shown a knack as a ball hawk for making interceptions and being around the ball at the right time.
It seems that he and his camp have been driving a hard bargain at the negotiating table, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:
Bills made Jairus Byrd an offer that would’ve made him highest paid S for a portion of his deal. Was rejected. Team still wants to sign him— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 2, 2014
With three All-Pro selections in five seasons to start his career, it seems Byrd will seek a contract bigger than the five-year, $41.25 million deal secured by Dashon Goldson from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason.
Should the Bills have used the franchise tag on Byrd?
Now that other players like Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints), Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins) and Greg Hardy (Carolina Panthers) have been designated franchise players by their respective teams, NFL.com lists Byrd as the top free agent available.
He figures to have a host of suitors when free agency begins on March 11, but just how much is he worth? With a record salary cap of $133 million for 2014, Byrd might have a good case to become the league's highest-paid safety now that players can make more money than ever.
While some might not agree he is the best safety in the game, the current economics and continued growth of the NFL could make Byrd the richest safety in the NFL. After more than a year of unsuccessful contract negotiations, both Buffalo and Byrd will now move forward in different directions.