The Buffalo Bills have announced that they have elected not to use an $8.433 million tag option on free safety Jairus Byrd. GM Doug Whaley held a press conference at the deadline to explain the decision, which we'll cover later on this evening.
That means that a contract standoff that started with a franchise tag last year, and which has lasted for more than a full calendar year, now has an expiration date: either the Bills will sign Byrd to a long-term extension by 4PM ET on March 11, or they won't, and Byrd will hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent, where he will quickly be gobbled up as one of this spring's most coveted commodities. The latter is far more likely than the former.
This news formalizes part of what was originally reported over the weekend: that the Bills were leaning toward not using the franchise tag on Byrd. Other details emerged from those reports, as well - namely, that Byrd had rejected a multi-year deal that apparently would have paid him $30 million in the first three years, and that part of the reason the Bills didn't tag Byrd was because they determined that the trade market for his services would not be satisfactory. The team will undoubtedly give reporters and fans more of their side of the story, as well.
Those notes are interesting and worthy of mention, but ultimately are fairly meaningless in formulating opinions on this matter. It's akin to being handed a few bits of a thousand-piece puzzle, and trying to determine whether or not you like the final product based on fitting those two pieces together. Too much of the story has not (and will not be) made known that, ultimately, the details that are out there are frivolous.
A brass tacks point of view is more prudent in this matter, and the choice fans ultimately need to make - no matter how they perceive those details - is whether or not they're okay with the Bills actively deciding to let one of their best players walk away for free. Because that is what they're doing - they're pocketing their last bit of leverage and giving Byrd exactly what he and agent Eugene Parker have wanted all along, a look at the open market. Buffalo no longer has any negotiating advantage.
With the tag out of the picture, Byrd and Parker have no motivation to field any calls from the Bills for the next week, let alone accept any offers that come their way before free agency begins. Buffalo can improve their offer all they want; Parker is savvy, and will simply take their best effort to the market and tell interested teams to beat that effort. That doesn't mean that the Bills are out of the conversation for Byrd's services; it just makes it exceedingly unlikely that he'll be back in a Bills uniform.
Buffalo could have prevented that from happening by using the tag. They will have their reasons for not doing so, and will probably share some of those publicly. Certainly, there would have been risks to doing so - it's hard to imagine Byrd and Parker taking that news well, as the tip of the iceberg - but those risks are far less tangible than the pure business decision of maximizing the value of an asset. Sometimes, things really are that easy.
The Bills made a bad business decision today. It was one decision out of many that they will make (and have already made) this offseason, and is not necessarily a back-breaker for the team's overall long-term strategy; it's one that they can absolutely recover from, particularly if things progress well at more important positions. Quite frankly, with this story now quickly moving to the rearview mirror, it will also be nice to talk about something else for a change. But those are rationalizations that sugarcoat the reality of today's situation. Buffalo's offseason is off to a bad start, and the team decided to begin it that way.