The Monday deadline for the Buffalo Bills and Jairus Byrd to come to a long-term agreement came and went without much noise. While the Bills are far from the only team in this type of predicament, the team is teetering on the edge of the reality that they are less than a year from potentially losing one of their best players.
Byrd and his agent, Eugene Parker, were looking to become the top-paid safety in the league, but Buffalo did not seem keen on the idea. According to Adam Benigni of WGRZ in Buffalo, the Bills’ brass wanted to pay Byrd as a top four or five safety, but not the top dollar he was requesting.
The $7.4 million the Bills were reportedly offering, according to Spotrac, is a good chunk less than the $9.1 million that Troy Polamalu is receiving from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013. Some would argue that Byrd is a better player than the slowly-aging Polamalu at this juncture and deserves a deal similar to the one the San Diego Chargers gave Eric Weddle last offseason.
Byrd has been one of the few bright spots on a beleaguered defense in one of the NFL's more obscure media markets. The lack of Pro Bowl nods and All-Pro designations is less to do with quality of play and more to do with the fact that writers outside of the Northeast rarely do more than glance at Buffalo's box scores on Monday mornings.
Byrd seems to be even lesser known among his peers, as both C.J. Spiller and he were obvious snubs on the NFL Networks Top 100 list that was unveiled over the recent summer weeks.
Those analyzing the NFL on a deeper level have recognized the value Byrd brings to the Bills from his free safety spot. He ranked third on Matt Miller's free safety list and Pro Football Focus named Byrd as the 25th best player of 2012 in their annual rankings.
The Bills made Byrd a high priority of the offseason, refusing to overpaying guard Andy Levitre so that money would open up to get a long-term deal done with their star safety. Slapping the non-exclusive franchise tag on him in March was a first step towards ensuring he would be in Buffalo at least one more season to negotiate a longer solution.
However, the passing of the July 15 deadline to exclusively negotiate long-term compensation left the Bills and Byrd with few options following the 2013 season. The two sides will be unable to talk about any contract statuses after Byrd signs his one-year tender, which will hopefully happen before the regular season begins.
Buffalo will have the option to do this song and dance again next winter assuming Parker does not negotiate the inability to tag Byrd next offseason into his one-year tender. Otherwise Byrd will become an unrestricted free agent once the new league starts in 2014 and risk losing homegrown free agents at the top of the market in consecutive seasons.
So where do the Bills and the representatives of their All-Pro safety go from here? Here are a few possible scenarios each can choose to go in, starting with the least likely.
Sign and Trade
Trades are so rare in the NFL that this seems silly to even jot down. Pro Bowl-type players moving from team to another through trade is even less popular, although we have seen deals involving Percy Harvin and Brandon Marshall within the last two years.
The differences between those deals and the Byrd deal is that neither of those top players were on a franchise tag. Also, both receivers were traded during the winter months in comparison to what would equate to a trade in the middle of the season.
A trade for Byrd would probably require a similar haul that the Bills received in return for Jason Peters a few years ago. It would also only happen if Byrd could agree to a long-term extension with the new team and there are not many teams willing to part with picks, plus shell out big money to a safety.
Another Team Signs Byrd
What? This can happen?
Strange, but true. According to Section 14 of Article 10 in the new CBA, other teams can still sign non-exclusive franchise players after the July 15 deadline. So Buffalo can have no contract talk with Byrd's reps, but they can respond to an offer by another team. It would cost another team two first-round picks to sign Byrd at this point, so this is another far-fetched scenario.
Bills Slap Byrd With Another Franchise Tag
Byrd is already hesitant to sign his one-year tender from the Bills this year, so it seems unlikely that Buffalo would try this again next offseason. Still, if Buffalo is going to eventually lose one of their top players, they would rather get something in return for him. Byrd would bring back a pretty penny to the franchise as he is considered an up-and-coming player after just four seasons in the league.
Non-quarterbacks can only be tagged twice, so slapping Byrd with the tag in back-to-back seasons would essentially be their last chance at negotiating a long-term deal.
Another slim-to-none scenario, as Parker would be foolish to let his client go through two seasons playing on the risky one-year deals.
Bills Let Byrd Walk
The reality of the situation is not complete doom, but the I would put the likelihood of the Bills getting Byrd signed to a deal next offseason at 50-50. All parties involved know that Byrd deserves top-market money at his position, but it comes down to what the team can afford.
Letting Byrd go would be an incredibly unpopular move in Western New York and would temporarily put a target on the back of new GM Doug Whaley. However, Brian Galliford of Buffalo Rumblings reminds us that it is Jim Overdorf doing the actual negotiating when it comes down to the dollars and cents.
The new coaching staff and scouting department did their due diligence this offseason by preparing for the possibility of life without Byrd. Buffalo moved cornerback-disaster Aaron Williams to safety and drafted two safeties in hopes that one of them can mask the loss in the near future.
A Long-Term Deal is Reached
I still see the re-signing as 50-50, but let us end these scenarios on a positive note.
Buffalo will have to come up a quite a bit from their proposed offer if they want to strike a deal next offseason. If Byrd has another outstanding season, the team may have no choice but to give him the top amount he is requesting.
Nine million dollars is a lot of money to pay a safety, but franchise players at the position are not readily available every draft year. Players like Polamalu and Ed Reed are every-few-years types, which gives Byrd a little bit more negotiating power next offseason. You can bet that Parker is lining up the stats of those future hall-of-famers and saying that Buffalo can have a similar top-tier player locked up for another five years.
A long-term deal would all but ensure that Byrd begins and ends his career in royal blue.
Once Byrd signs his one-year tender, this situation will be swept under the rug until the team is either out of the playoff race or improbably holding up the Lombardi Trophy. His worth to the team is not equal to the tag placed upon him in March, but Byrd can go a long way by having a third straight All-Pro caliber season.
It is tough to take a side when it comes to negotiations, especially when talking about a player so beloved by a small-town franchise. The Bills are doing their due diligence by not hand-cuffing themselves for future investments, but at the same time letting an important player go could go down as another in a long line of mistakes.
For Byrd, he has played well in four seasons, but has he played long enough to deserve Polamalu money? There are cases for both sides of the argument, but Byrd should not have a hard time finding such a contract next offseason if the Bills ultimately decide to pass.