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Jairus Byrd Contract Should Be Buffalo Bills' Top Priority

With Jairus Byrd in tow, the Buffalo Bills are in a good spot at safety. Without the impending free agent, they're in a world of hurt.

Rick Stewart

The Buffalo Bills are in a good spot at a safety position that features second team All-Pro Jairus Byrd, who was arguably the best safety in the NFL in the 2012 season despite the lack of corresponding accolades. Just as Byrd has emerged as one of the best players in the league at his position, he's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March.

Byrd will not hit the open market. If the Bills can't get him re-signed by the time the new league year starts in early March, they'll put the franchise tag on him - which will pay him $6.8 million, or probably less than what a new deal would pay him on an average annual basis - and hope that they can re-sign him to that long-term deal sometime before training camp starts. In short, Bills fans shouldn't be worried about Byrd being in Buffalo in 2013; it's what lies beyond that's the true worry.

That's true not just in terms of future seasons, but what lies beyond Byrd on the roster. With Byrd in the picture, the Bills look good at safety. Without him, they have far more questions than answers.

Jairus Byrd

  • Age: 26 (27 in October 2013)
  • Contract: Unrestricted Free Agent

Byrd is excellent. He was more flash than substance in his rookie season, when he earned a Pro Bowl berth with nine interceptions. This season, he cracked the All-Pro listings thanks to a complete game that saw him continue to make big plays against the pass (five interceptions) but also emerge as a quality, big-hitting run support defender (four forced fumbles). You might say he's all substance at this point in his career. Byrd does not have great top-line speed, but you wouldn't know it from watching him, as he makes up for that lone drawback with top-notch intelligence and instincts.

Safeties like Byrd are not easy to find. He's not the biggest guy, but he is a physical force to be reckoned with, and a player that offenses must always be aware of. Byrd finds the football, then makes a play on it when he gets there. He's every bit as good as advertised, and he's only just entering the prime of his career.

We shouldn't blame Byrd, however, if he'd like to test the market. He's played in the NFL for just four seasons, but if he re-signs in Buffalo for a fifth he'll already be on his third coaching staff. He's not yet played on a team that's won more than six games at the professional level. He's among the best in the business. Wouldn't you want to explore other options in that scenario, even if you're not against coming back?

But again: Byrd will be a Bill in 2013. Bank on it.

George Wilson

  • Age: 31 (32 in March 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2013 season. Owed a $25,000 workout bonus this off-season. Scheduled to make $2.45 million in base salary in 2013.

Wilson had a two-year run in 2010 and 2011 where he was one of the more underrated safeties in the game; in that two-season window, he recorded six interceptions and two forced fumbles, and he wasn't even a full-time starter in 2010. He came back to earth a bit last season, struggling more frequently in coverage while falling off the face of the earth in the big play department (zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles). It's probably time for the Bills to start seriously thinking about upgrading the strong safety position again, but Wilson is still an acceptable veteran presence on this defense - particularly if he's in a competition for his starting gig with either a new face, or the next name on our list.

Da'Norris Searcy

  • Age: 24 (25 in November 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $555,000 in base salary in 2013.

A 2011 fourth-round draft pick out of North Carolina, Searcy (5'11", 216) was handed a fairly sizable share of first-team reps with the defense in his second pro season. At one point, he was taking about one-third of Wilson's reps at strong safety; ultimately, he only wound up playing 25 percent of snaps on defense, however, as he got dinged up a bit and didn't do much to distinguish himself. When he was on the field, he made some nice plays in the run game, but was generally invisible from most other angles. There is still upside with Searcy - he certainly has the physical traits of a prototype in-the-box safety - but the new coaching staff would be wise to let Searcy re-earn any role he may end up having in 2013.

Mana Silva

  • Age: 24 (25 in August 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $555,000 in base salary in 2013.

Added to the roster during the 2012 season once he was dumped by Dallas, the 6'0", 206-pound Silva saw just two snaps on defense, but became one of the team's core special teams players. He's still a young prospect with upside - so don't completely forget about him as the team searches for a fourth safety option - but he can expect, at minimum, some healthy competition for a roster spot.

Free agency outlook: Aside from the obvious (retaining Byrd), there isn't much to expect here. Ideally, the Bills will sign Byrd to a long-term contract extension; if they can't get that done by the start of the new league year, they will put the franchise tag on him and hope that it doesn't alienate him into backing away from those extension talks. There have been reports that Byrd would like to test the market; one way or another, he almost certainly won't have that opportunity this off-season.

2013 NFL Draft outlook: If the Bills are, indeed, in the market for an upgrade at safety, then Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse may be a player to keep an eye on. Not only does he have obvious ties to Buffalo's coaching staff (chiefly defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson, who was with him last year), Thomas plays the game the way that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine likes it to be played - downhill and hard-hitting. There are other safety prospects that fit that profile too, of course - and the Bills may look to snag one in the neighborhood where they snagged Searcy in 2011.

Discussion topics: As usual, we've got two talking points for you to kick-start the conversation below:

  • If the Bills want to keep Byrd here long term - which they should - they almost have to avoid the franchise tag, right?
  • How comfortable are we with the idea that Searcy might wind up as a starter?