Buffalo Bills free safety Jairus Byrd has quietly developed into one of the premier defensive backs in the National Football League since being selected as a second-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. A true ballhawk, the former Oregon Duck has managed to register 18 interceptions, force 10 fumbles and accumulate over 300 tackles in his first four seasons.
At just 26 years of age, Byrd is in a prime position to garner a hefty contract, and he has yet to sign his franchise tag that the Bills placed on him at the commencement of free agency in the hopes of securing a long-term deal. Byrd's combination of skill and age could earn him a contract extension that would place him among the highest-paid safeties in the NFL.
While Byrd doesn't generally receive attention from most national media outlets, many sources that provide analytical statistics suggest that he's arguably one of the best in the game at his position.
If you look at interception totals as a basis for evaluating defensive backs, Byrd's 2012 season wasn't the best. However, opposing quarterbacks targeted him just 21 times last year, managing to post just a 56.9 passer rating when throwing in his direction. Out of those 21 targets, five were intercepted and six were deflected.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Byrd was the best coverage safety in the NFL by a wide margin. His +20.0 pass coverage grade (0.0 is average) was 5.1 points better than the next candidate, Eric Weddle, a safety whose contract parameters should be a factor in Byrd's negotiations with Buffalo.
While defending the pass is Byrd's strength, he also offers above-average run support. In 2012, Byrd recorded five tackles for a loss and 10 run "stops," despite playing just 102 of his 1,037 defensive snaps within eight yards of the line of scrimmage, or "in the box."
There have been swirling rumors regarding the impending contract negotiations between Byrd's agent, Eugene Parker, and the Bills' front office, as CBS Sports insider Jason La Canfora explained: "There hasn't been any real movement in these talks, according to sources, so based on that alone one might not be optimistic."
Furthermore, Byrd explained in May to BuffaloBills.com's lead journalist Chris Brown that he didn't care about staying with one team for his career, like his father.
"No," said Byrd. "I mean he really didn't have a chance back then. When he talked that was kind of pre-free agency and it got started right toward the end of his career, so it wasn't really something that was big back then. The game has changed a lot."
He also explained that one of his priorities when deciding on a team was playing for a winner.
"You've just got to look at where the team is headed, what's going on with the situation," he said. "You've got to take in a lot of things. That's something that when the time comes I have to do."
Byrd's unsigned franchise tender would pay him $6.9 million in 2013 should he end up signing it. However, Byrd and his agent can only negotiate a long-term contract with the Bills until July 15. After that date, the franchise player can only sign a one-year deal with his current team. It can be for more than the franchise tender, and it can include other terms, like playing-time or performance triggers that would prevent the tag from being used again. But what kind of deal can be expected for Byrd to sign?
We decided to look at the highest-paid safeties in the NFL right now, in order to determine some approximate parameters of which to go by.
|Eric Berry||Chiefs||6||$60 million||$34 million|
|Dashon Goldson||Buccaneers||5||$41.25 million||$18 million|
|Eric Weddle||Chargers||5||$40 million||$19 million|
|Antrel Rolle||Giants||5||$37 million||$15 million|
|Troy Polamalu||Steelers||4||$36.5 million||$10.5 million|
|Michael Griffin||Titans||5||$35 million||$15 million|
Due to Berry signing his massive contract prior to the new rookie wage scale, it's more accurate to go by the contracts recently signed by Goldson and Weddle, two safeties that are close in age and ability to that of Byrd. What do you believe Byrd is worth, fellow Rumblers?