Let's assume for a moment that free safety Jairus Byrd signs his franchise tender and reports to Buffalo Bills training camp on July 28. (That's a large assumption considering what's happened on that front, but bear with us for a moment.) If Byrd does report on time, it's expected that he and Aaron Williams - a player that Byrd himself seems high on at safety - will ultimately emerge as the starting safeties for new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Now, drop that assumption: if Byrd skips camp to make a point in his contract stalemate, things on the field will be quite interesting.
Williams, the third-year pro switching from cornerback to safety, would have the most field experience of any safety on Buffalo's roster, even though all of that experience would be at a different position. Da'Norris Searcy saw part-time work at safety in 2012, and is the only other significantly experienced safety on the roster. It would stand to reason that Williams and Searcy would open camp as the first-team safeties, which is exactly where they lined up during spring workouts.
Searcy, however, does not offer as much of that Pettine buzzword, "versatility," as rookie fourth-round pick Duke Williams, who saw both first-team reps and work at cornerback in the spring setting. Searcy might open camp with the ones in the Byrd sits scenario, but it's not unfair to expect that the rookie Williams could make a hard charge for a starting job with a productive summer.
It's also feasible that Searcy and Williams could be arranged into a sort of rotation, given that they're two different types of athlete:
Duke Williams is a similar athlete to his surnamesake, Aaron Williams: they're deep safeties that tackle well, but don't necessarily function well in the box, instead orienting more towards the coverage aspects of the job. Searcy is a big, strong, straight-line defender that can be excellent in run support, but doesn't have the change-of-direction skills to match up on slot receivers or athletic tight ends in coverage.
It would seem that Williams, then, would offer more to a defense based on positional multiplicity than would Searcy. That might be less true if Searcy is given an opportunity to try out some of the nickel linebacker duties that Bryan Scott has played over the last several seasons; Searcy may prove himself capable of handling that type of role. That opportunity could make Searcy more valuable to a coach like Pettine, particularly on coverage downs, where on the surface Searcy isn't as valuable as the rookie.
Clearly, Bills fans are hoping that Byrd will sign his one-year, $6.916 million tender offer, report to camp and start learning Pettine's defense as soon as possible. Until that happens, however, the safety position breaks down into two main question: how quickly can Aaron Williams adjust to his new position, and how will the battle for playing time between Searcy and Duke Williams unfold?