The Buffalo Bills will try to negotiate a new contract with free safety Jairus Byrd before potentially franchising the fourth-year player, according to John Wawrow of the Associated Press.
The Bills and Byrd are scheduled to meet this week at the NFL Combine to discuss a new contract. Byrd is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 4.
If the Bills decide to franchise Byrd, it will cost them between $5.89-$6.79 million for a one-year contract, according to Wawrow. As of Monday, teams have two weeks to designate franchise players.
According to a poll at SB Nation's Buffalo Rumblings, 86 percent of Bills fans want the team to use its franchise tag on Byrd rather than left guard Andy Levitre. Levitre would make $9.7 million if franchised.
Byrd has been a consistent safety in his four years since being drafted in the second round by the Bills in 2009. As a rookie, he picked off a league-high nine passes in 14 games. He earned a Pro Bowl nomination because of it. This season, Byrd had five interceptions and four forced fumbles to anchor the Bills' secondary.
If Byrd does hit the open market, teams will be interested. He's averaging five interceptions, three forced fumbles and 76 interceptions per season. At just 26, Byrd would be a solid, consistent force for any team looking to bolster its secondary.
However, it seems that the Bills can't afford to lose Byrd. The team cut veteran safety George Wilson last week to help free up cap room. Perhaps the move was done so they would have more money to re-sign Byrd, but that remains to be seen. The Bills also cut Terrence McGee last week for the same reason.
The Bills have about $102 million devoted to the roster for 2013, so they have around $19 million to work with under next year's salary cap. If they can't re-sign Byrd, then they'll have a lot of work to do to fix their secondary. Even if they do re-sign Byrd, though, they'll need to make a few more moves to help replace the recently-cut veterans.