The Buffalo Bills still have all or part of six days to re-open negotiations with franchise tagged free safety Jairus Byrd in an effort to reach a long-term contract extension and ensure Byrd is present for the start of training camp on July 28. While we await more news on that front, however, let's explore the Bills' contingency plans at safety.
Behind Byrd - a four-year starter that was one of just three Bills players to log over 1,000 snaps in 2012 (the other two being departed left guard Andy Levitre and cornerback Stephon Gilmore) - Buffalo does not have much experience at safety. No, that's being too kind; they have practically no experience at safety. If Byrd misses the start of training camp, the three safeties expected to see the most work with the first-team defense are as follows:
Early returns on his switch from cornerback to safety have been positive, but there are two major reasons to be concerned about Williams beyond his wildly inconsistent cornerback play: he hasn't played safety since high school, and he's struggled with injuries in his first two pro seasons. After missing seven games as a rookie, he missed another five last season with a knee injury; as a result, he only played 547 snaps, or just over 50 percent of the defensive total. That still qualifies him as the safety with the most field time on the team behind Byrd. He is athletic enough to deep safety or line up on receivers, which could help him tremendously in a new defense.
Early on in his second season, Searcy was platooning at strong safety with (since-departed) veteran George Wilson, taking between 33 to 40 percent of those reps in any given game. Then he got dinged up, missed a game, and the defense trended more towards Wilson, who ultimately was on the field 82 percent of the time to Searcy's 25 percent. Keep in mind, also, that Searcy's rep vulturing came at the prompting of a coaching staff that is now history. The third-year pro (drafted two rounds behind Williams) will be in the mix to start regardless of whether or not Byrd is in camp, but he's no lock for playing time, either.
A conservative mindset would have Duke Williams in "dark horse" territory when it comes to the Bills' safety position, but there's a solid chance that the rookie fourth-round pick out of Nevada makes a strong push for not just playing time, but a starting job. With so little set in stone - and with his chief competitors nearly as inexperienced at the NFL level as he is - the newer Williams has a golden opportunity sitting in front of him. Also a factor in the nickel cornerback battle, Williams' positional versatility could give him a leg up in this competition, all other factors being equal.
Let's assume two things for discussion purposes: Byrd is holding out, and training camp is over. Who do you believe are the top two safeties on the depth chart?