Are Falcons ready to do the dirty Byrd?

February, 6, 2014
2/06/14
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The Atlanta Falcons started the process of reshaping the roster and creating more cap space Wednesday when they released veterans Asante Samuel and Stephen Nicholas.

The $6.5 million in cap savings with those moves will add up in the end as the team attempts to lure new players come March 8 – the first official day the Falcons can start negotiating with the representatives of impending free agents.

Other cap-saving moves could follow in the next few days, such as the release of veteran offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds to save another $1.3 million. The Falcons also have a decision to make with veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who is due a $1 million roster bonus this spring and is set to count $4.75 million against the cap in 2014. Umenyiora became a situational pass-rusher at the end of this past season.

Byrd
Whatever happens with current players, the Falcons realize the need to bolster the offensive and defensive lines while also securing a replacement for Tony Gonzalez and maybe even a veteran quarterback. We've talked about possible free agents mentioned at the Senior Bowl who could fill those needs, such as Denver guard Zane Beadles, Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson, Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley and New Orleans quarterback Luke McCown. That is not to say these are players general manager Thomas Dimitroff and his staff are necessarily targeting.

There is one final position we want to look at from our Senior Bowl conversations: safety. Although free safety Thomas DeCoud made the Pro Bowl in 2012, the Falcons are likely to look at other options due to his tackling issues. DeCoud acknowledged tackling has been a problem and vowed to correct it, but it might not keep the front office from exploring other options next to strong safety William Moore.

One marquee name came up several times at the Senior Bowl, although the player wasn't mentioned by the Falcons themselves. It's fair to say this name would fit perfectly with the Dirty Birds:

Jairus Byrd, 5-10, 203, S, Buffalo Bills
Age: 27
Draft history: 2nd round of 2009 out of Oregon
Career games/starts: 73/66
The word: There is no doubt about Byrd's playmaking ability. He is a three-time Pro Bowl pick and tied for the league lead with nine interceptions as a rookie. Byrd has 22 career interceptions (including two pick-sixes) and 11 career forced fumbles. He's not afraid to stick his nose in and tackle, either. Whether Byrd remains with the Bills remains to be seen. General manager Doug Whaley said the team plans to extend Byrd an offer after he played under the $6.9 million franchise tag this past season. The Bills could tag Byrd again at around $8 million, but it seems unlikely. Byrd was disappointed with the Bills when a long-term deal wasn't reached prior to him signing the franchise tender.

So would Byrd consider the Falcons if he reached free agency? I think Byrd would listen to any interested team willing to pay him. But I also know that his father, Tampa Bay cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd, has preached to him the value of being loyal to the team that drafted you. The elder Byrd was a Pro Bowl cornerback for San Diego and spent his entire career with the Chargers. I wrote a story about the Byrds when I covered the Chicago Bears and Gill Byrd was on staff there. I also know how much he would love to coach his son. However, the Buccaneers already seem set at safety. If the Falcons are willing to invest money in another top safety after giving Moore a five-year contract worth a maximum of $32 million, then they better be prepared for the expectations that surround having one of the highest-paid safety tandems in the league.

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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