While most of the talk surrounding the safety position for the Buffalo Bills has revolved around the future of three-time All-Pro ball hawk Jairus Byrd, the team signed Aaron Williams to a four-year, $26 million deal Wednesday to sway headlines.
NFL: Around the League on Twitter announced the news:
Bills sign Aaron Williams to four-year, $26 million contract, presumably to fill Jairus Byrd's centerfield role http://t.co/tdVcWt1f7z— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) March 5, 2014
The deal makes Williams the eighth-highest-paid safety in the league, according to Rotoworld.
There will be speculation that this virtually ensures Byrd will be leaving the Bills during free agency, a very strong possibility. But it isn't yet a guarantee, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN:
Bills CEO Russ Brandon says Aaron Williams’ extension is “completely independent from any other negotiations” (i.e. Byrd)— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) March 5, 2014
Williams was converted to safety from cornerback in 2013 and had a strong season, finishing with 82 tackles, a forced fumble, four interceptions and 11 passes broken up in 14 starts. General manager Doug Whaley had the following to say on Williams, via the team's official website:
Aaron Williams is a versatile player who has grown into a key playmaker for our defense in recent years. He had an extremely productive season for our defense in 2013. Aaron is the type of young, core player we targeted early in the process to retain for years to come and this will be our philosophy moving forward. By building on his improved play in 2013, we expect Aaron to continue to grow into a key contributor for the Bills organization.
Good move for the Bills?
While Williams can play effectively against either the run or the pass, it's likely he'll fill Byrd's role in the defense as the center fielder against the pass should Byrd sign elsewhere. Those are certainly big shoes to fill for the 23-year-old safety, but after signing this big extension, he'll be expected to deliver.
It also sets up the possibility that the Bills could target a safety when they select No. 9 in this year's NFL draft. Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor could both be possibilities if Byrd departs, depending on if the team prefers Williams to play as a strong or free safety.
This year's draft is pretty deep, so the Bills could also look to address the safety position in the later rounds.