AFC East: Jairus Byrd

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buckle your seat belts: the Buffalo Bills' next major contract negotiation is right around the corner.

Running back C.J. Spiller is able to become a free agent after this season. Speaking to reporters following his first offseason workout Tuesday, Spiller dropped a line that could send shivers down Bills fans' spines.

"It's my first rodeo. I'll take advice from guys that have been there before. I'll reach out to Jairus [Byrd] and see how he handled it," Spiller said. "I haven't talked to him. I've seen him this offseason but I will [reach out] eventually."

[+] EnlargeCJ Spiller
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesBills running back C.J. Spiller says he'd "love to stay here [Buffalo] and finish my career."
Byrd, of course, was in negotiations with the Bills for over a year until he signed a lucrative, five-year deal with the New Orleans Saints last month, so he's probably not the first person that Bills fans would want talking to Spiller.

Byrd was franchised last offseason and chose not to sign his tender, sitting out the offseason program and most of training camp. Spiller, on the other hand, was with his teammates Tuesday.

"The biggest thing is, I'm here. Last year, Byrd and his situation was different and he didn't show up," Spiller said. "And it worked out in his favor. But I'm here, ready to work."

Spiller was asked if he was taking part in the voluntary workouts as a sign of "good faith" in the upcoming negotiations.

"No, this is a lot of different things. I'm not the type of guy that -- I love being around my teammates. I love working out. So, is that going to boost anything? Who knows," Spiller said. "I can only control what I do. I can't worry about anything else. I understand that this is a business. Decisions have to be made. You have to respect that. But being here has nothing to do with that stuff."

As for any negotiations, Spiller is in the process of hiring an agent. Gary Wichard, who negotiated Spiller's rookie contract in 2010, died in 2011.

"Hopefully I'll get one pretty soon. I'll need one pretty soon. So I kind of got some guys in mind, that I'm looking at. I've had a chance to meet with a couple, so that process has been going pretty well so far," he said. "I just haven't really had enough time to really get into trying to really sit down and see who the best agent would be best for me, with different characteristics that I'm looking for.

"Because my previous guy, I had a unique bond with him and that's kind of what I'm looking for. So it will take a while to try to get a feel for guys, but through a lot of talks and a lot of prayer, I know I'm going to select the right person. So it's nothing to do with trying to delay any negotiations, because I haven't had any time. I've been spending time with my daughter and my family."

Spiller didn't say when he would like to begin negotiations with the Bills' brass.

"I haven't really given it any thought. I'm sure once that time comes, both parties will try to sit down and try to get something down and start negotiating. Right now, I'm pretty sure these guys are getting ready for the draft. I'm getting ready for the season," he said. "I haven't really given it any thought, about this possibly being my last year."

Playing into the contract talks will be the diminished market for free-agent running backs. As explored in a recent piece by ESPN's John Clayton, running backs are having trouble getting paid after reaching free agency.

Spiller still sees the position as valuable.

"If you look at this free agency, running backs really didn't make a big splash in the market. I don't know if teams just decided to make this a passing league, which it already is," Spiller said. "To me, you're always going to need a running back. A quarterback's best friend is the running game. Fortunately for us, that's what we're going to have here in Buffalo. We've had a great running game since I've been here.

"But some reason, some people started looking at that stat sheet, started looking at the age and different stuff, instead of looking at production and what guys done. Take Adrian Peterson, for instance. Look at his production. Look at Chris Johnson, who went for 1,000 yards for six straight seasons. So to me, you got to have a running back. You got to have more than one because of the season."

ESPN NFL Nation writer Kevin Seifert recently examined running backs' performance as they age and found a "cliff" after age 27. Spiller, who turns 27 in August, brushed aside any fears of a possible decline.

"I don't think nothing about it. It's just somebody that came up with a stat. Good on their part," he said. "I don't think my play is going to decline. If you really go look at my body of work, I don't really have a ton of carries. I probably have maybe 600. And this is going into my fifth year. You look at other guys who have almost 2,000 carries, it's a huge difference.

"I don't think about it. I don't pay attention to it. I'll be 27 this year and if people say that's my peak, then that's them. But to me, I'm just going out there and just balling."

Spiller defended his play last season, when he was limited by an ankle injury but rushed for 933 yards.

"I was very pleased. Considering that I was playing on one wheel, really. Almost went for another 1,000-yard season," he said. "That was one of my big goals, trying to get back to that 1,000-yard season. Just came up short. To be able to do it on one wheel, that was pretty impressive."

However, Spiller's production and playing time dipped from the season prior. He and coach Doug Marrone seemed to be on different wavelengths at points last season, with Spiller eventually sitting out one game in October to rest his injured ankle.

"I won't forget what everybody was writing in the papers," Spiller said Tuesday. "What really stung? Everything. 'Should I [have] sat down? Was the 2012 year just a one-year thing?' But it is what it is. You guys get paid to do what you do, and I get paid to do what I do. Like I said, I'm gonna be ready to go this year and hopefully I can get back to that 2012 form."

Despite the potential to test the free-agent market next spring, Spiller said he would welcome a long-term deal with the Bills.

"I would. There's not too many guys that can say that they've played [their whole] career at one spot," he said. "But at the same time, you've got to be a realist with yourself and understand that this is a business, as well. But my goal -- I would love to stay here and finish my career -- but who knows how it'll play out."
General manager Doug Whaley said this week that the Buffalo Bills are no longer "in the active market" in free agency.

With that, it's time to look back on the past two weeks, over which time the Bills have added several new players and allowed others to sign with other teams.

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando has graded every team's performance Insider in free agency, assigning letter grades. Sando gave the Bills a 'D.'

Only the Dallas Cowboys (who also received a 'D') and the Oakland Raiders (who received an 'F') graded out as poorly as the Bills in Sando's piece.

Here is some of what Sando, with help from ESPN NFL Insider Louis Riddick, had to say about Buffalo:
The Bills lost their best young player (Jairus Byrd) and paid a relative premium for players such as Chris Williams, who has not been a consistent performer. They also continue to operate without a viable veteran quarterback behind EJ Manuel while other teams scrambled to sign the few available candidates.

It mostly falls in line with what we've said over the past two weeks.

The Bills are gambling by not addressing their quarterback depth chart this spring. They deserve credit for not overpaying for Byrd, but their plan to shore up their back end isn't clear. Tuesday's news that Corey Graham could contribute at safety is one factor that might change that.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A few leftovers from Rex Ryan's 60-minute sitdown with reporters at the NFL owners' meetings:

Ware
1. Hot for Ware: The New York Jets' coach didn't deny his interest in former Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, who ended up signing a three-year, $30 million contract with the Denver Broncos. Ryan lobbied for Ware upon his release from the Cowboys, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

"Any outstanding player, you’re going to have an interest in," Ryan said, responding to a question about Ware. "Whether that’s attainable or not might be a different story. You definitely entertain any option that can help your football team."

2. Cornerback spin: Ryan continued to blow sunshine on the current state of the cornerback position, insisting he's happy with Dee Milliner, Darrin Walls, Kyle Wilson, et al. But he acknowledged, "Would I prefer having shutdown corners and all that? I absolutely would, because it does give you more flexibility in what you do. But if that’s not the case, I'm not going to beat my head into the wall. Throughout my career, I’ve had some great corners, some not-so-good corners. In our system, we’re able to make adjusmtents."

3. The Darrelle dance: The coach sidestepped questions on whether he pushed to re-sign Revis. Translation: He did. Ryan said he doesn't think about Revis anymore. "He's the enemy now," Ryan said.

Revis
4. Byrd man: Ryan talked about former Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, and how he'll be an ideal fit in his brother's defense with the New Orleans Saints. Asked why the Jets didn't pursue Byrd, Ryan said, "Nine million a year is a lot for a safety."

5. Safety dance: Ryan didn't rule out the possibility of re-signing Ed Reed, but it sounds like a fallback option for the Jets. Ryan said he's OK with Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. He also mentioned Rontez Miles, who spent last season on the practice squad, as a potential factor.

6. Quote of the day: Trying to pump up Geno Smith, Ryan insisted that his second-year quarterback faced tremendous adversity last season. "Yeah, he had that little drop-off, but quite honestly, Johnny Unitas would’ve had a drop-off," he said. "We had a lot of injuries. No excuses, but that’s reality."

A little drop-off? In one stretch, Smith went five straight games without a touchdown pass. That's the Grand Canyon.
ByrdTom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesThe Saints were aggressive early in free agency by striking a deal with Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd.
None other than Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas himself nailed it on Tuesday night when he tweeted the words, “Copy cat league ..#NFL”

Teams around the NFL spent big Tuesday on safeties who might be able to make the kind of impact that Thomas has made with the reigning Super Bowl champs. None more so than the New Orleans Saints, who agreed to a six-year deal with former Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd.

The deal is worth $9 million per year – a hefty price, indeed. But Byrd was rated by several media outlets as the No. 1 free agent available in the NFL, regardless of position.

Byrd has made three Pro Bowls in his five seasons with the Bills, racking up 22 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles.

ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett and Bills reporter Mike Rodak break down the move from both perspectives:

Triplett: So how much of a game-changer did the Saints get in Byrd?

Rodak: There’s potential for him to be one, Mike. Byrd’s absence early last season hurt the Bills. Their secondary stumbled its way through a Week 3 loss to the New York Jets, which wound up being one of Geno Smith’s best games of the season. He tossed two long touchdown passes, exposing a weakness at safety when Byrd was injured. Overall, opposing quarterbacks had a 46.0 QBR and a 7.19 yards per attempt when Byrd was out. When he came back, that dropped to a 30.1 QBR and a 6.18 yards per attempt. Had he played the full season, Byrd statistically projected to have seven interceptions, which would have been the second-best mark of his career.

Mike, how the heck did the Saints manage to fit Byrd under their cap? I think that’s what surprised Bills fans the most -- that a team with about $2 million in cap space at the start of this week managed to nab one of the top free agents on the market.

Triplett: Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? Especially when it comes to salary-cap management.

I was a little surprised that the Saints aimed THAT high. But I fully expected them to make one or two aggressive moves, like when they signed cornerback Keenan Lewis last year under similar cap constraints. The Saints are bona fide Super Bowl contenders as long as quarterback Drew Brees remains in his prime. And they’ve shown that they’re willing to keep pushing salary-cap costs into future years as long as they’re in this window (Byrd's deal only counts $3.5 million against the cap in 2014).

Of course, it has meant releasing a ton of beloved veterans this offseason, when the Saints feel like their values no longer match up with the price tag. But the Saints clearly figured that Byrd could make a bigger impact going forward.

So I’ll ask you the flip side, Mike. Why do you think the Bills let Byrd get away? Any reason to worry that he won’t continue at this pace for another four or five years?

Rodak: I think that the Bills had reached a point with Byrd where they felt like there wasn’t going to be much of a future. They had been negotiating with him for over a year and once they decided not to franchise him, the writing was on the wall for his departure. Why didn’t they franchise him? I think that’s a decision that can be debated for years. General manager Doug Whaley said that they wanted "more amicable" negotiations, but it never seemed like talks changed course in the final week before free agency. Ideally, I think the Bills would have liked to franchise and trade him, but Whaley admitted that was a difficult proposition.

As for Byrd’s future, there are two concerns: his speed and his feet. ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian gave Byrd a B-minus for his free-agent tracker, calling him a “speed-deficient safety.” As Byrd gets into the later years of his Saints deal, that could become a greater concern. There’s also plantar fasciitis, a chronic foot condition that kept Byrd out of the first five games last season. He’s said that’s something he dealt with even before last season, and it’s something to monitor going forward.

Mike, do you think the pairing of Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro is now the best safety tandem in the NFL?

Triplett: Maybe outside of Seattle, anyway. Vaccaro showed a lot of promise as a rookie last year, and I think this frees the Saints up even more to use him as an attacker all over the field while trusting Byrd to help from the back end. Throw in Lewis, whom I thought deserved to go to the Pro Bowl as a No. 1 cornerback last year, and it’s quite the secondary the Saints are putting together. Not a bad complement to the Saints’ offense, obviously.

Hopefully it winds up as a win-win, with the Bills spending wisely on their future. I don’t mind saying that having covered Doug Marrone here in New Orleans, he’s one of my absolute favorites in the league.
METAIRIE, La. -- Jairus Byrd said it was the "winning culture" that drew him to the New Orleans Saints in free agency.

Byrd obviously had a number of interested suitors once he hit the open market. But he scheduled his first visit to New Orleans and was barely off the plane before he agreed to a six-year contract. Obviously it didn't hurt that the Saints offered a whopping $54 million, with $28 million guaranteed, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Byrd
"The winning culture. What coach [Sean] Payton has done and what Drew Brees has done here," Byrd said when asked why he chose the Saints during a conference call with the New Orleans media on Wednesday.

Byrd said he likes the "yin and yang" relationship he sees between the Saints' dynamic offense and up-and-coming defense.

"Anytime you have that explosive offense, it always helps," Byrd said. "If you're a guy on defense and you know a team is able to get leads on people, jump out to early leads, that bodes well for guys like me who want to get turnovers and create turnovers because it makes another team one dimensional. That's a really big factor and what allowed me to weigh all my options and think about what the best situation was for myself."

The idea of forcing turnovers must be music to the Saints' ears. As good as their defense was last year (fourth in the NFL in yards allowed, second in pass defense), they struggled to force turnovers during the second half of the season. They finished fourth from the bottom in the league standings with just 19 takeaways.

Byrd, meanwhile, has snagged 22 interceptions and forced 11 fumbles during his five-year career.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Byrd's 22 interceptions rank second in the NFL over that span, behind only cornerback Asante Samuel (25).

"That's what I pride myself being able to do is create turnovers -- force fumbles or whatever it might be," Byrd said. "That's something I'm looking forward to coming in and doing. Just doing what I normally do -- and that's what I do."

Byrd didn't reveal too many details about how the deal came together so quickly. He said his agent Eugene Parker and Saints contract negotiator Khai Harley worked out the finer points.

But Byrd said he made the choice to make his first visit to New Orleans because of how much he liked the potential fit.

Byrd said he hadn't had a chance to talk specifics with new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan yet (they were planning to meet shortly after his conference call once Ryan and coach Sean Payton returned from Alabama's pro day). But Byrd said he got a good firsthand impression of the Saints' defense when the Bills lost to New Orleans 35-17 in Week 8 last season.

"Just from watching, it seems aggressive and attacking," said Byrd, who also liked the impression he got from New Orleans' home-crowd atmosphere in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"That was big. Playing here last year, I saw how the atmosphere was. It was electric," Byrd said. "They're really behind their team. The Dome was rocking when I was here. They feed off that, and I think that's really big. Anytime you're playing football on defense you always want to have that noise. That's big."
The New Orleans Saints will host former Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd on a free-agent visit, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Tuesday.

Byrd is seeking a deal worth at least $9 million per season, according to ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker. However, some early signings Tuesday may not work in Byrd's favor.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that former Browns safety T.J. Ward signed a deal worth $5.5 million per season with the Denver Broncos. Along with Byrd, Ward was considered among the top safeties on the free-agent market.

The Saints had $2.1 million in cap space Monday but could restructure contracts in order to afford signing Byrd.

Meanwhile, Bills general manager Doug Whaley said Tuesday that the "lines of communication" remain open between the Bills and Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowler.
With the free-agent signing period set to open Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley said talks are "status quo" with safety Jairus Byrd.

Byrd
"Lines of communication are open," Whaley told WGR 550 on Tuesday afternoon. "We still have until 4 where we're the exclusive negotiating people. But we'll see how that goes. The clock's ticking."

Byrd is seeking a deal worth at least $9 million per season, according to ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker. The three-time Pro Bowl safety has been linked to talks with the St. Louis Rams and Dolphins, among other teams, during the open negotiating period that began Saturday.

Meanwhile, Whaley said the Bills have been aggressive in trying to retain two of their other free agents: tight end Scott Chandler and kicker Dan Carpenter.

"They have some offers on the table," Whaley said. "We're just waiting to hear back from them."

Yahoo! Sports' Rand Getlin reported Tuesday that Carpenter was flying from South Florida to Buffalo.

Whaley also said the Bills have extended contract offers to defensive lineman Alex Carrington and linebacker Arthur Moats.

"We're waiting to hear back from those guys," he said. "Hopefully we hear back before 4 p.m."

Nuggets from Bills' free-agent trail

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Happy Monday. We've arrived at what is typically the busiest week of the NFL offseason.

Since Saturday, teams have been able to enter into talks with opposing teams' free agents. Starting Tuesday at 4 p.m., deals can become official.

Until then, let's recap what we've learned over the past few days:

1. The Bills will need to make a decision on several players who are due large roster bonuses this week. Quarterback Kevin Kolb ($1 million) and linebacker Manny Lawson ($500,000) are both due roster bonuses on Thursday. On Saturday, the Bills owe wide receiver Stevie Johnson a $1.75 million roster bonus. Last week, Bills general manager Doug Whaley addressed Kolb's situation with John Kryk of the Toronto Sun. "It's a tricky situation," Whaley told Kryk. "We're going to be very careful how we handle this, and the foremost consideration in the whole equation is him being healthy." It would be a surprise if Kolb remains with the team past this week. Lawson and Johnson are longer shots to be released but their situations still bear watching.

2. Last week, the Bills hosted linebackers Jameel McClain and Jasper Brinkley, who were both released by their former teams. Brinkley could be off the market soon, as Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo reported Sunday that the Minnesota Vikings will bring back Brinkley on a one-year deal. Meanwhile, McClain will still meet with the Vikings on Monday, reports 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson. We ranked linebacker as the Bills' top free-agent need and we wouldn't be surprised if the Bills made a play to sign one of the top free-agent linebackers available. Jon Beason and Karlos Dansby are among those who are hitting the open market this week.

3. ESPN.com Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker reported Monday that safety Jairus Byrd is seeking a deal that pays him at least $9 million per season. That would make Byrd the highest-paid safety in the NFL, at least in terms of average salary per season. The NFL Network reported over the weekend that the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams have expressed interest in Byrd.

4. While Tuesday is the start of the free-agent signing period, it's also the first day that teams can complete trades. At this point, don't rule out activity on that end from the Bills.

The Miami Dolphins have more than $30 million in salary cap space and are expected to be major players in free agency for the second year in a row. Offensive line is an obvious area of need, but what about the safety position?

Should the Dolphins take the plunge with free-agent safety Jairus Byrd?

The former three-time Pro Bowler is one of the best players on the market and won’t come cheap. A source informed ESPN.com's Dolphins page Monday that Byrd is seeking a contract in the range of $9 million per season. That number would make him the second highest-paid safety in the NFL behind Eric Berry, who has a six-year, $60 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The NFL Network reported over the weekend that Miami and the St. Louis Rams are among the teams expressing interest in Byrd. He is a dynamic playmaker who has 22 career interceptions with the Buffalo Bills. Byrd also had plenty of success against the Dolphins in the AFC East.

Signing Byrd would fill a need in Miami’s secondary and take away a top defensive player from a division rival. That is a win-win for the Dolphins. However, Miami has been on a spending spree since last year. The Dolphins recently shelled out $29.3 million contract for safety Reshad Jones last season and a $32 million contract for Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes last week. Adding Byrd could allocate $100 million or more into Miami’s starting secondary, which is a significant investment.

The Dolphins have other well-defined needs such as offensive tackle, guard and defensive tackle. These are not sexy positions, but they must be addressed if Miami wants to improve on last year's 8-8 record.

Potentially signing Byrd would make a huge splash for the Dolphins. But it does not come without financial risks.

Top free-agent roundup: AFC East

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In years past, our ESPN NFL divisional bloggers would compile lists of the top free agents within their respective divisions. We're continuing that tradition this offseason, but with a twist: We asked each of our ESPN NFL Nation bloggers to rank their team's free agents, which then were compiled into a master list for each division.

With the free-agent signing period opening Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, here's our AFC East free-agent ranking:

Byrd
1. Jairus Byrd, Bills S: Ball-hawking safety had four interceptions last season and was named to his third Pro Bowl in five years.

2. Aqib Talib, Patriots CB: Matchup man-to-man cornerback was a centerpiece in the Patriots' game plans in 2013, with injuries the only real blemish on his resume.

3. Julian Edelman, Patriots WR: Coming off a career-high 105-catch season -- staying healthy for all 16 games for the first time -- the receiver is poised to cash in.

4. Austin Howard, Jets T: An ascending player who would generate significant interest if he hits the open market.

5. Paul Soliai, Dolphins DT: He is one of the top run-stuffers on the market. Soliai can fit in the middle of a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, which adds value.

6. Scott Chandler, Bills TE: A 6-foot-7 tight end who posted career highs in receptions (53) and receiving yards (655) but was a non-factor in the red zone.

7. Randy Starks, Dolphins DT: The Dolphins used the franchise tag on Starks in 2013 but only used him as a rotational player. A change of scenery is probably best for him.

8. LeGarrette Blount, Patriots RB: The 250-pound running back was tough to bring down once he got rolling late last season; deserving of an upgraded contract.

9. Ryan Wendell, Patriots C: Undersized center has the smarts and durability that could appeal to a team looking to fill a void in the pivot, but sometimes gets overpowered.

Spikes
10. Brandon Spikes, Patriots LB: Hard-hitting linebacker is a top player against the run, but struggles at times in coverage.

11. Calvin Pace, Jets LB: Recorded a career-high 10 sacks last season, but there will be a limited market because he'll be 34.

12. Chris Clemons, Dolphins S: He's a decent safety with plenty of starting experience. Clemons is strong in run support and a sure tackler, but he struggles at times in pass coverage.

13. Nick Folk, Jets K: Designated as a franchise player.

14. Dan Carpenter, Bills K: Kicker is coming off his best season as a pro, converting 91.7 percent of his field goals, including every kick in the second quarter or later.

15. Alex Carrington, Bills DL: Versatile lineman can play tackle in a 4-3 or end in a 3-4; started first three games in 2013 before an injury ended his season.
With the NFL free-agent negotiating period having opened at noon Saturday, it's timely to take a closer look at our ESPN NFL free-agent tracker Insider.

This year, ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian served as our "general manager" for the tracker, assigning letter grades to each player available. The grading scale is tied to a salary value: Polian believes an 'A' player should receive a contract with an annual value of at least $6 million, while a player with a 'B' should receive between $2-6 million per season.

That's when Polian's 'B-minus' grade for Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd caught our eye.

By next week, Byrd could become the highest paid safety in the NFL, as he's expected to fetch a deal worth at least $9 million on the open market. That represents a wide gap between Polian's valuation and what Byrd could actually receive, so we asked the former Bills general manager about his take on Byrd.

Polian said the salary ranges assigned to the letter grades can eventually change based on market spending, but noted that his grade of Byrd wouldn't be affected.

"He's a speed-deficient safety," Polian said. "Safeties don't get faster as the years go on."

Byrd is the third-ranked safety on Polian's list, behind Antoine Bethea (who received an 'A') and Chris Clemons (who received a 'B').
When the Buffalo Bills decided not to assign safety Jairus Byrd with the franchise tag Monday, the immediate reaction was along these lines: How could the Bills just let their three-time Pro Bowler walk?

In an interview Tuesday with the Toronto Sun's John Kryk, general manager Doug Whaley explained his thinking in the decision.

Byrd
"I think it just sets up a more amicable negotiation, because last year -- I wouldn't say it was contentious, but as a player you always want to go out and see your true value, and we restricted that," Whaley told Kryk. "So this year we said, 'For the betterment of the Buffalo Bills, and to show you more or less good faith, we're not going to use that option to restrict you from hitting the market. Let's try to go full bore, with both of us focused on trying to get a deal done.'"

The Bills have exclusive negotiating rights with Byrd until Saturday, when other NFL teams can officially start talks with Byrd. Tuesday is the first day other teams can complete a contract with Byrd, who is the top safety on the free-agent market.

If the Bills had tagged Byrd, it would have cost them $8.4 million against their salary cap. Once Byrd signed the tender (and once the 2014 league year began on March 13) the Bills could have traded Byrd. Still, Whaley didn't think the chances of a trade were strong enough to warrant tagging Byrd.

"There are a lot of moving parts to doing that. If you try to franchise him and trade him, then you've got to find somebody that's going to give you the proper compensation, and then you have to have them feeling confident enough to then sign him," Whaley said. "The best path for the Buffalo Bills was not to take that chance."

Byrd told ESPN this week that he remains open to a deal with the Bills but is "excited" to hit the open market for the first time in his career.

"He has a value (to us), and they have a value of what his camp thinks he's worth, and we're trying to meet in the middle and make it comfortable for both sides," Whaley said. "Do you hate to lose him for nothing? Yes."
The New York Jets haven't doled out a lucrative, multi-year contract for a safety since Kerry Rhodes signed a five-year, $33.5 million deal in 2008 -- a contract then-coach Eric Mangini, speaking to a friend years later, called one of his biggest regrets. But that's besides the point; the message here is that since 2009, in Rex Ryan's cornerback-centric system, the organization hasn't paid premium prices at the safety position.

It should take a hard look at changing the philosophy now that Jairus Byrd appears headed for the open market.

Byrd
The Buffalo Bills declined to use the franchise tag on Byrd (the deadline was 4 p.m. Monday), meaning he will become an unrestricted free agent March 11. That's assuming he doesn't re-sign with the Bills, which appears highly unlikely.

Byrd will demand serious coin -- he reportedly rejected a deal that would have paid him $30 million for the first three years -- but he's so good that the Jets should investigate. Byrd is a younger version of Ed Reed, sans the dynamic return ability. He's a ball hawk with uncanny instincts, a presence in the deep middle. The Jets like to play a lot of single-high safety looks, and Byrd would be a terrific scheme fit. Their problems against the deep ball would disappear with him patrolling center field.

Obviously, the Jets are doing something right on defense (five straight years in the top 11), but they've done so with a glaring lack of production at safety. Since 2009, the Jets' safeties have combined for only 16 interceptions. (We're not including six by Dwight Lowery, a safety/cornerback hybrid who played mostly in sub packages.) Since 2009, when Byrd entered the league as a second-round pick, the soon-to-be-former Bills star has 22 interceptions. By the way, that includes six against the Jets.

So will the Jets pursue Byrd? My gut tells me no. It sounds like they will entrust the position again to Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen & Co., perhaps adding a player in the draft. Clearly, they have bigger needs on offense, but they have enough salary-cap room to plug those needs and make a big splurge on defense. Maybe a look at the list below will change their mind.

Safety interceptions since 2009:

Ed Reed, Eric Smith, Kerry Rhodes -- 3
LaRon Landry, Jim Leonhard -- 2
Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen, Brodney Pool -- 1
On Friday, we asked the following question: What did we learn about the Buffalo Bills in February?

Now we'll ask this: What do we expect to learn about the Bills in March?

As the Bills move into the third month of the offseason, here's what is on the radar:

[+] EnlargeByrd
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesSafety Jairus Byrd likely will be testing the free-agent market later this week.
Does Byrd stay grounded in Buffalo? We'll get a better sense for this later Monday, when the NFL's deadline to assign the franchise tag passes. If the Bills don't tag Jairus Byrd, then he can begin negotiating with other teams Saturday. The Bills, according to the Associated Press, are no longer negotiating with Byrd after offering him a deal that would have paid him $30 million over the first three seasons. Regardless of the Bills' offer, Byrd has waited a long time to hit the open market and will soon get his chance. His days in Buffalo could be numbered.

What will happen to the Toronto series? The Bills have played a regular-season game in Toronto for the past six seasons, but that could soon come to an end. The Bills have delayed sending invoices to their season-ticket holders, which are typically sent in early February. The delay could be related to the team needing to make a decision on hosting an eighth home game, which would be added to the slate if the Toronto series is ended. In January, CEO Russ Brandon said the team would "evaluate" the game after concerns about game atmosphere and dwindling attendance.

Where do Bills turn in free agency? With the NFL salary cap set at $133 million and the Bills carrying over almost $18 million of unused cap space, they are in relatively good cap health entering the start of the free-agent signing period. If they do not franchise Byrd and do not give him a lucrative extension, they will have greater spending power on the open market. As of Saturday, the Bills were $25 million under their adjusted 2014 salary cap. Where may that money go? The Bills will need help at safety if Byrd leaves, while they could add veteran help at wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line to supplement potential draft choices at those positions.

Testing the trade market: General manager Doug Whaley used the trade market to his advantage last offseason, dealing linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to the Indianapolis Colts for defensive end Jerry Hughes. That move paid dividends for the Bills' defense and could open the door for similar deals to happen this offseason. The NFL allows trades beginning March 11.

Cap cuts: Even with $25 million in cap space, the Bills could create more room by releasing quarterback Kevin Kolb. At 29, the future of his NFL career is in doubt after a season-ending concussion last August. Kolb is due a $1 million roster bonus this month and the Bills would avoid paying it -- and his $2 million base salary -- by releasing him.
The Buffalo Bills and safety Jairus Byrd are at a crossroads.

Monday marks the final day that the Bills can assign Byrd with the franchise tag, which would essentially tie the three-time Pro Bowl safety back down to Buffalo for next season. Tagging Byrd would cost the Bills about $8.4 million, up from $6.9 million last season.

Byrd
If the Bills don't franchise Byrd by 4 p.m. Monday, then Byrd will have an opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his six-year career. Other teams may begin negotiations with Byrd on Saturday, although the free-agent signing period doesn't officially open until next Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported Sunday that Byrd and the Bills had reached a "standstill" in negotiations and that no further talks were scheduled. The report included the detail that the Bills offered Byrd $30 million over the first three seasons.

It's dangerous to make any qualitative statements about the Bills' offer if only partial details have emerged. Ultimately, if Byrd leaves in free agency, the Bills want perception to be that they made a reasonable offer to one of their best players and he did not accept it.

But for Byrd, there is little reason to accept any offer from the Bills less than a week before hitting the open market for the first time in his career. The Bills' most recent offer is likely to fall short of what another team could offer Byrd next week.

The Bills have the cap space to tag Byrd again this season, although it would restrict their spending ability elsewhere in free agency. Naming Byrd their franchise player would theoretically allow the Bills to negotiate with him until July 15, but after being tagged twice in two seasons, Byrd may have minimal desire to come to the table.

Much could still change Monday and over the rest of this week, but at this point, the signs are pointing to Byrd flying out of Buffalo.

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