- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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