The Buffalo Bills locked up a starting safety to a long-term contract.
Unfortunately for Bills fans, it's not the safety everyone's been talking about for over a year.
On Wednesday morning, Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports reported that the Bills had reached an agreement on an extension for safety Aaron Williams.
S Aaron Williams' deal with the Bills: four years, $26 million, with another $1.25 million in incentives, source tells @FOXSports1— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 5, 2014
Williams moved to safety last year after struggling at cornerback for the first two years of his career. It didn't take long for him to turn his career around from that point. Williams finished the season as the 28th-best safety in the league, according to Pro Football Focus' grading system (subscription required).
He also allowed completions on only 57.6 percent of throws into his coverage, along with three touchdowns. He notched four interceptions and eight passes defensed.
Aaron Williams: "Moving to safety was the best thing that ever happened to me."— Mark Gaughan (@gggaughan) March 5, 2014
It's not hard to read the tea leaves and see the end of Jairus Byrd's time in Buffalo. Just a few days before signing Williams, Bills general manager Doug Whaley devalued the safety position relative to the rest of the defense.
"It's important, I think, depending on scheme. In this scheme, talking to [defensive coordinator Jim] Schwartz, safety is going to be important a lot because of the communication and how he sets the back end of the defense and gets all the checks and balances from the sidelines," said Whaley, according to BuffaloBills.com. "It's an important part, but would it be the top-rated piece I would start the defense? No, but it's in the mix. I think you'd have to go defensive end and corner before you go safety."
Now, just days later, the team has invested big in one safety. There's no way the Bills will invest a big contract in another safety, unless they value the safety position far more than Whaley was letting on at the time.
The Bills, however, would have you believe that this contract will not affect their negotiations with Byrd.
Russ Brandon says Aaron Williams extension is "completely independent" of their other player negotiations. #Bills— Chris Brown (@ChrisBrownBills) March 5, 2014
If you take Brandon at his word, the door is still open for Byrd to return. Re-signing both safeties seems to contradict Whaley and Schwartz's sentiments on the safety position, though.
Yes, Byrd and Williams are two different safeties. Byrd is one of the rare safeties with the sideline-to-sideline range and instincts to be effective as the lone deep safety in Cover 1. He also has enough coverage skills to line up over a tight end or running back in man coverage from time to time.
Williams possesses his share of coverage skills, and his experience at cornerback gives him the ability to play man coverage if needed. He has some ball skills, too, but he's not quite as rangy as Byrd. Few (if any) would argue that his skills are anywhere near Byrd's when it comes to the elite safeties in the NFL.
Does Aaron Williams' extension mean the end of Jairus Byrd in Buffalo?
The Bills just invested $6.5 million annually in one safety, and it may take another $7.5 million to lock up Byrd on a long-term deal. Given how the Bills say they value the safety position, spending $14 million annually on two safeties does not seem like a direction they want to go. That would account for over 10 percent of the $133 million salary cap.
Before signing Williams' extension, the Bills had roughly $25 million in cap space with which to work in 2014. The Bills still have holes at guard, tight end and linebacker that they need to fill.
For over a year, the Bills and Byrd have been traveling down a road toward their departure, with one warning sign after another. The latest sign on their journey appears to read "Dead End."