The Indianapolis Colts have a ton of cap space and a lot of need at certain positions heading into free agency. But if the Colts want to head into the season with a strong defense, finding a way to sign safety Jairus Byrd should be priority No. 1.
According to ESPN.com, the Buffalo Bills did not use their franchise tag on Byrd, which means that he will be an unrestricted free agent once free agency begins on March 11. The Bills used their tag on Byrd last season, with the 27-year-old earning around $6.9 million in 2013.
While the Bills likely will be looking to bring back Byrd, the rest of the league will now be taking a long look at the dominant safety with free agency getting ready to start up. For the Colts, bringing in Byrd might be one of the best moves they could make this offseason.
Currently, the secondary in Indianapolis is quite thin, and it could be getting thinner with Vontae Davis and Antoine Bethea set to become free agents. According to Kevin Bowen from Colts.com, Chuck Pagano claims that the team has a "plan in place" for Davis.
For Bethea, on the other hand, no one is talking about him being a player the Colts must bring back, and for good reason.
At 29 years old, Bethea will be 30 once next season begins, and there were clear signs that he's beginning to slow down. There was a four-game stretch where Bethea looked lost, starting in Week 9 against the Houston Texans.
Coming off of a bye week going against a backup quarterback in Case Keenum, Bethea got burned on multiple occasions. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Texans attempted seven passes of 20 yards or further, completing four of them for 164 yards and two touchdowns, giving Keenum a passer rating of 141.4 on those passes.
While Bethea did start to turn it around last season, paying a 30-year-old free safety big money is a big risk. This is likely Bethea's last opportunity to get a hefty deal, which means that he'll be looking for a bigger contract than the Colts should be willing to give him.
What should the Colts do at free safety?
Instead of re-signing Bethea, spending money on Byrd to upgrade the position would be a much smarter move. The Colts ranked near the middle of the pack in pass defense last year, holding opposing quarterbacks to 231.9 passing yards per game and a passer rating of 84.6, ranking 13th and 18th respectively.
Bringing in Byrd could quickly give the Colts a top-10 defense, especially if they could also bring back Davis. In just 11 games last year, Byrd had four interceptions, giving him 22 in just five seasons.
As a free safety, Byrd can shut quarterbacks down. According to PFF, when opposing QBs threw at Byrd, they completed just 11 of 22 passes for 83 yards and a passer rating of just 35.0, the second-lowest among safeties in the NFL behind Glover Quin of the Detroit Lions.
As always, money will be the biggest factor for teams trying to bring him in. It's clear that Byrd is one of the league's top safeties, which means that he likely will be looking for something around $8-9 million per year, given that that figure is what some of the other top safeties in the league are currently making.
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Not all teams have the cap space to drop that much money on a safety, but the Colts do. According to Over the Cap, the Colts have around $40.9 million in cap space this offseason. General manager Ryan Grigson showed last offseason that he isn't afraid to bring in new faces via free agency, and this is one guy he could be looking at.
If the Colts replace Bethea with Byrd, the defense could be a lot better in 2014, and with a few more key additions, this team could be a Super Bowl contender.
Note: All information regarding contracts is courtesy of Spotrac.com.