One week from today, at 4PM ET on July 15, things could get ugly between the Buffalo Bills and free safety Jairus Byrd - unless, of course, the two sides are able to work out a long-term contract extension by that deadline. Buckle up, Bills fans, because stress levels will intensify immensely over the next eight days.
This StoryStream sets the scene for this week (or perhaps just refreshes your memory): the Bills put the franchise tag on Byrd on March 1; Byrd has not signed that tender and has also purposely missed all off-season workouts in an effort to secure a new deal; and, most importantly, there have been no indications that the two sides are close to a contract extension - or are even talking at this point. Good times.
Negotiations will, however, take place this week, with the Bills' negotiating team - led predominantly, it's believed, by team president Russ Brandon and cap specialist Jim Overdorf - trying to work out said long-term deal with venerable and notorious NFL agent Eugene Parker.
The long-term negotiation
Parker is an appropriate place to begin the discussion on this week's negotiations, and it gives us an excuse to link to this gem of a profile on Parker from Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, circa early June. If your working knowledge of Byrd's agent extends to prolonged holdouts from former Bills like Cornelius Bennett and Jason Peters, we strongly suggest that you read that article.
In the profile, Graham and Parker discussed the upcoming negotiations for Byrd. A predominant theme of the piece is Parker's uncompromising stance in securing fair compensation for his players; he spoke specifically about what is fair for Byrd.
"Under the system, the Bills were allowed to pay Jairus substantially less than a Pro Bowl player at his position makes for four years," Parker told Graham. "He's fulfilled every clause of his contract, and he's played at 15 to 20 percent of what his market value is for a player at his position, and he did it for four years with no complaints. Now, it's time. We've got to figure something out."
Byrd's rookie contract, signed as a second-round pick in 2009, was for $4.225 million over four years, with $2.4 million guaranteed. (He has earned escalators based on performance, but as we're not privy to those payments, we'll leave them out of the following calculations.) If Parker really did go public with his belief that Byrd has been playing for 15 percent of his worth, then he's seeking a contract that will pay Byrd at least $7 million annually.
That figure seems conservative, given that the NFL's highest-paid safeties all have deals that average at least $8 million annually. (Dashon Goldson signed a deal worth $8.25 million annually with Tampa Bay this past March, as just one example.) Not many safeties have deals that contain guarantees that, applied cap-style on a per-year basis, average $4 million per year over the life of the contract. OverTheCap.com lists just one safety with that distinction: Kansas City's Eric Berry, whose contract isn't wholly relevant to the NFL's safety market due to the league's outdated rookie slotting process (he was the No. 5 overall pick in 2010). Goldson may or may not be above that $4 million threshold; there are conflicting reports on the total guarantees in his five-year deal, ranging from $18 million to $22 million to $25.5 million.
Byrd was guaranteed $2.4 million in his first four league years, or an average of $600,000 per year; $600,000 just happens to be 15 percent of $4 million. We don't know exactly what Parker is seeking on Byrd's behalf, but given that Byrd is a young, highly productive player and widely regarded as one of the league's best at his position - and given that the number of safeties that average $4 million per year in guarantees is so minimal - that figure might be the best place to start when discussing potential negotiating sticking points this week. The rest - contract length (expect four or five years, perhaps six if the Bills get lucky) and average per year ($8 million still seems like a good benchmark) - may fall into place once the guarantees are agreed upon.
These are all numbers that will be discussed at length over the next eight days - and with any luck, the Bills and Parker will be able to negotiate a fair deal for one of the league's elite safeties. Buffalo has the cap room, and Byrd is deserving of top compensation. If ever there were a time for the Bills to avoid playing hardball, this is it - but we'll find out soon enough what their strategy will be.
What if there's no long-term deal this week?
If the Bills and Byrd haven't reached agreement on a multi-year extension by next Monday afternoon, things will get very interesting - and the player will have several options. All of them, however, will involve his only being able to sign a one-year deal with Buffalo.
The one-year, $6.916 million franchise tender is still on the table, and Byrd will have the option to sign it - as he's had all off-season. If he does, he leaves himself open to the Bills tagging him again next off-season; that does not seem to be a likely course of action for Byrd, despite a second tag coming with a 20 percent pay increase to $8.299 million if that were to come to pass.
Instead, it seems more likely that Byrd would continue to hold out of team activities - missing training camp practices that begin on July 28 - in an effort to leverage the Bills into negotiating a one-year contract with a clause preventing the team from using the franchise tag on him next spring. (Buffalo did just that with Nate Clements back in 2006.) This would give Byrd the freedom to test the free agent waters next March, which he seemed quite eager to do before the Bills tagged him four months ago.
If a continued holdout (we'll use the term even though Byrd is not technically under contract) is the plan of attack, he can report for duty at any time - after he's signed a one-year deal of some sort. The expiration date on said holdout would be November 12, the deadline for unsigned tagged players to sign a deal lest they miss the entire season. Byrd won't have to worry about losing an accrued season, as he already has four of those under his belt, but losing out on just under $7 million seems like a bad idea.
That November 12 option is a worst-case scenario for the Bills and their fans - unless, of course, Byrd is so hell-bent on never donning the logo again that he'd forego an easy $7 million to prove that point. It's more likely that Byrd would simply wait as long as possible trying to secure that contract clause, then sign and report at the last minute to avoid missing any games (which is what the aforementioned Peters did in 2008). Even if he waits until November 12 - which, again, seems like a bit of a stretch - we almost certainly have not seen the last of Byrd in a Bills uniform.
Of course, the hope is that all of these options will be made moot this week. The next eight days are very important for a Bills team that, in the eyes of its fans, has to secure arguably its best player for the long haul.