On Tuesday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that the New Orleans Saints were expected to release safety Jairus Byrd at the beginning of the new league year. Byrd had been scheduled to make $7.4 million in salary this season.
Byrd was a turnover machine during his best years with the Buffalo Bills, notching 22 interceptions, 33 passes defended, forcing 11 fumbles, and recovering five fumbles in 73 games over five seasons after being a second round pick out of Oregon. In his rookie season, he picked off nine passes, etching into fans’ brains that he would be a force. In 2013, Buffalo used the franchise tag to keep him but couldn’t come up with a long-term contract.
The Saints signed Byrd to that big contract he was looking for, a six-year, $52.5 million deal that still makes him the 7th-highest paid safety in the league three years later. But a massive $11+ million cap hit didn’t justify his play in New Orleans. He started 33 games in three seasons battling injury and recorded just three interceptions during that span.
One factor weighing in the Bills favor this time around is Jairus’ dad, Gill Byrd, who is Sean McDermott’s new defensive backs coach in Buffalo. When the younger Byrd hit the free agent market in 2014, his dad had just been hired as cornerbacks coach by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who were in full rebuild mode. This time around, the two could actually work together.
Buffalo is in need of safety help. Aaron Williams, the man tapped to replace Byrd in 2014, is mulling retirement after a series of neck injuries. Corey Graham is a year and a half older than Byrd and looks like he’s lost a step. Behind those two, it’s street free agents like Colt Anderson and Robert Blanton. If Buffalo wanted to fill one hole with a steady veteran, this could be the stopgap they need.
The money is a big question mark. Eric Weddle is the top-paid safety over the age of 30. He signed a four-year, $26 million deal in 2016 but had an All-Pro season in 2014 and had only missed three games in the previous six years. Reggie Nelson and Glover Quin are other free safeties over the age of 30, along with Corey Graham. Those deals fit into the $4.5 to $5 million-per-year range. There are other safeties for Buffalo to look at, too. Chris Conte worked with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Byrd in Tampa and he is younger and more durable than Byrd.
Ultimately, a Byrd-Bills reunion doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it may have in 2014 when the ballhawk left for greener pastures, but don’t call it a “good bet” just yet.