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Ten Buffalo Bills to decide 2013, No. 6: Jairus Byrd

Whether he's on the field or not, Buffalo's best defender will influence the shape of the 2013 season for the Bills.

Rick Stewart
"Yeah re-signing with Buffalo, I have no problems, but I know that around this time it’s about business, so I understand that too. I love the fans here. We just have to win. That’s the biggest thing, just winning - and I want to be somewhere where I’m wanted, too. I want people to want me here, and if that’s the case, I have no problems with Buffalo." - Jairus Byrd to reporters in January

Whether he's on the field or not, Jairus Byrd will have an impact in 2013 for the Buffalo Bills.

Byrd, as you are undoubtedly aware, is in the midst of a contract standoff with the Bills - one that could very well lead to his missing training camp, pre-season and perhaps even regular season action in an effort to maximize his market value next off-season. You can keep up with the latest on that story in this StoryStream, but clearly, the ideal from the fans' perspective is to have Byrd in camp on time and on the field come Week 1, even if that means he's only under contract for one more year.

On the field, we know exactly what Byrd is: one of the best safeties in the NFL, an elite playmaker, and perhaps even the Bills' best player regardless of position. In his four years in the NFL, he has transformed from a paper tiger (nine interceptions and little else of substance as a rookie) to a second-team All-Pro, two-time Pro Bowl athlete with statistical production on par or in excess of the league's elite.

More importantly, Byrd is an incredibly important player in Buffalo's young defensive backfield, where the only player that comes close to matching Byrd's 60 career starts is sixth-year cornerback Leodis McKelvin (32). Beyond those two players, Buffalo's most battle-tested defensive back is probably second-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore. If Byrd sits, the Bills will likely play three players at safety (Aaron Williams, Da'Norris Searcy and rookie Duke Williams) with three combined NFL starts at safety. Clearly, there is a major leadership role waiting for Byrd whenever he reports to the team.

In recent days, questions have been raised - perhaps not innocently - that the Bills are interested in keeping Byrd on a one-year deal in 2013 to see how he fits into the new defense being installed by new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. This is a ridiculous notion: not only is Byrd capable of playing any coverage in any defense, but he's only likely to be better in a defense that will force more errant throws due to more frequent and complex pressure packages. Seriously: this is the type of defense that fans have been starving to see Byrd in for four years.

This is a make-or-break season for Byrd. Again. Today, it's looking as if his options might be sign his franchise tender and report to the team on time, or hold out - if only through the pre-season, but perhaps as long as November 12 - to try to snag a one-year deal with a no-tag clause, giving him the market freedom next off-season that he didn't have this spring. He'd be gambling, however, that the Bills would be desperate enough to have him on the field this season that they'd make that sizable concession; if he and agent Eugene Parker don't see that happening, he may just bite the bullet and sign the franchise tender.

Regardless of what happens, Byrd is clearly one of the Bills' most important players heading into the 2013 season. If he's not on the field, he leaves a massive crater for the Bills to try to patch over - and if he signs and suits up, he's not just one of the best at his position, but he's a major veteran influence on the back end of an extremely young defensive back seven.