If you're hopping on the computer this morning looking for any sort of optimism that Jairus Byrd might sign a long-term contract extension with the Buffalo Bills by 4PM ET today, prepare to leave empty-handed:
Bills and S Jairus Byrd have no contract talks scheduled for Monday, deadline for franchised players to sign long-term deals.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 15, 2013
Not only are the two sides not planning on negotiating today - which has been the status quo since the Bills used the franchise tag on Byrd back on March 1 - but ESPN's Adam Schefter also hints that Byrd is leaning towards staying away from the team when they begin season preparations later this month.
Buffalo's situation with franchise S Jairus Byrd shapes up as one that could drag into preseason, if not longer. #BillsMafia— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 15, 2013
Albert Breer of NFL.com reported on Saturday that Byrd had not yet decided whether or not he'd sign his $6.916 million franchise tender and report to training camp on time, but the popular assumption for months is that Byrd and agent Eugene Parker would consider a "holdout" (even though Byrd wouldn't be under contract) to try to leverage the Bills into making a concession somewhere.
If Byrd were to simply sign his tender and report - at any juncture - the Bills could simply tag him again next off-season (for $8.3 million), and Byrd would be stuck in the same situation he's been in for four months, trying to swing a long-term deal with a franchise that won't pay what his agent believes he's worth. Parker and Byrd will consider withholding the player's services in an effort to leverage the Bills into negotiating a one-year deal with a no-tag clause, preventing the Bills from retaining his rights in this manner next off-season. If Byrd can't score the security of a long-term contract, then the open market in the spring of 2014 could be his next goal.
The Bills, meanwhile, will undoubtedly want to keep Byrd on the one-year franchise tag, paying him significantly less than the current going rate for elite safeties in his first year in Mike Pettine's defense. Even if they tag him two off-seasons in a row, they'll have paid him an average of $7.61 million in two years, which is still well below the $8-9 million annually it would otherwise take to sign him. At minimum, they'll want to avoid giving Byrd that no-tag clause simply so that they can retain his rights past the 2013 season.
Both sides will weigh the risks of their strategies, as well. For Byrd, he risks sliding into a new defense with difficulties and six games' worth of poor tape if he stays away from the team until November 12, the drop-dead date for him to sign and report lest he lose an accrued season. Even if he skips practices and pre-season action right up through the start of the regular season - a tactic that former Bills tackle Jason Peters used in 2008 at Parker's suggestion - Byrd risks a down season and adverse effects on his market.
For the Bills, they risk entering the 2013 season without their only defensive playmaker of repute, their best defensive back, and arguably their best player. (You know - minor stuff.) If Byrd skips camp and the Bills hold their ground, they'll likely start the season with third-year pro Da'Norris Searcy, converted cornerback Aaron Williams and rookie fourth-round pick Duke Williams platooning at safety. While there is physical talent within that trio, none have anywhere near the experience and level of production that Byrd has.
That's the tug-of-war that matters at this point: do Parker and Byrd believe that a lengthy holdout will ultimately yield a no-tag clause from Buffalo? If Parker senses that the Bills may be willing to let Byrd sit, he could advise Byrd to sign the franchise tag and report to training camp on time. That remains a possibility, even as Schefter's source hints otherwise.
We'll see what happens in less than two weeks, when the Bills open training camp at St. John Fisher College on July 28. As for today: don't hold your breath on that long-term deal, and don't hold your breath that this story will die any time soon, either.