Bills' backup plan for Byrd underwhelming

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
1:17
PM ET
With the dust having settled from the Jairus Byrd saga, what's left for the Buffalo Bills at safety?

Beyond Aaron Williams, there's a whole lot of uncertainty at the position. Between Byrd and Jim Leonhard -- who remains a free agent -- the Bills are set to lose a total of 16 games started at safety from last season.

That's not to say the Bills should have opened their wallets for Byrd, or that they should re-sign Leonhard, an undersized and aging player. But it means that they need to find a way to replace that production in their defense.

General manager Doug Whaley told WGR 550 on Friday that he expects Byrd's replacement to come from the current roster.

"That's the plan," Whaley said. "The young guys we have on the roster -- Duke Williams, [Jonathan] Meeks, and [Da'Norris] Searcy -- we think that competition between those three, we'll get a guy who will come out and help us win."

Is that really the best approach for the Bills?

Searcy is the most experienced option of the bunch. He had his best season under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine last season, but his role isn't clear under Jim Schwartz. Pettine mostly used Searcy as a close-to-the-line player who could made an impact as a blitzer (he had 3.5 sacks). Schwartz figures to use two deep safeties more often.

That opens the door for Williams and Meeks. Yet both are raw prospects, seeing little-to-no action on defense last season.

Meeks played exclusively on special teams. He missed eight games with a broken ankle. Projecting him to a starting role would be a stretch.

Williams could be the most intriguing name of the group. He was a fourth-round draft pick last year but hardly made the most of his potential opportunities in the secondary.

When Byrd sat out training camp and the preseason, Williams had a chance to make a move. He didn't. The Bills signed Leonhard before their first regular-season game, and he took a lead role when Byrd sat out the first six games with foot soreness.

Even when injuries forced Aaron Williams back to cornerback, Duke Williams couldn't crack the rotation at safety. The Bills turned to Leonhard and Searcy instead.

Late in the season, Aaron Williams landed on injured reserve. The Bills were out of the playoff race. It would have been an ideal time for Duke Williams to get some snaps on defense. He didn't play a single down.

Competition is good, but when it's between three players who don't have starting experience or would be out of place as starters at this point in their careers, it's not an ideal situation.

Options remain on the free-agent market. Miami's Chris Clemons, New England's Steve Gregory and Atlanta's Thomas DeCoud all have extensive experience as starters. If their price tags are reasonable, why not create another layer of competition at the position?

It's just good business.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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