The Buffalo Bills gave safety Jairus Byrd the franchise tag, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. The Bills officially announced the move on Friday afternoon. The move ensures that he will be patrolling the secondary for the Bills' defense for at least one more year.
The Bills have reportedly been working with Byrd for months to try and come to a contract extension, so the franchise tag isn't much of a surprise, especially after releasing veteran safety George Wilson.
In the grand scheme of things, the franchise tag will save the Bills some money early on. The cost for safeties under the franchise tag cost is third-cheapest position at approximately $6.8 million, only kickers/punters and tight ends come at a lower cost.
Much of the sports world has called on the Bills to retain Byrd's services. NFL.com rated Byrd as one of the safest free-agent signings to make this offseason. ESPN listed Byrd as one of their eight must-keep free agents.
As Buffalo Rumblings writes, Byrd has possibly been seeking a contract comparable to what San Diego's Eric Weddle signed in July of 2011, one for five years, $40 million, $19 million guaranteed and adjusted for current times. The thought of the Bills letting Byrd go just won't work for a defense that struggled mightily throughout last year.
Byrd and his agent are almost certainly asking for a contract along the lines of the deal Weddle signed - adjusted for league inflation, of course. The fourth-year pro is worthy of that asking price; he's racked up 71 tackles, five interceptions and four forced fumbles this season, and is the only consistent play-maker on a terrible Bills defense.
Byrd's five interceptions were good for seventh-best in the NFL last season. He made Pro Football Focus' All-NFL team, although he didn't make the Pro Bowl, losing out to Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed. Byrd allowed just 16 receptions into his coverage all season and stuffed the run whenever it came near him, garnering stops on 9.8 percent of all snaps where he lined up within eight yards of the line of scrimmage.
Pro Football Focus rated Byrd as the top free agent safety and keeping him on the team is one of the Bills top priorites. Buffalo struggled on defense in 2012, ranking 22nd against the pass according to Football Outsiders.
The Bills drafted Byrd in the second round of the 2009 draft out of Oregon. He burst onto the defense in a big way when he earned a Pro Bowl berth as a rookie after snaring nine interceptions. He was the first Buffalo Bill to be selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie since Greg Bell in 1984. Over his four-year career, he has 18 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles.
With all the turmoil in the Bills' front office this season, it appears that negotiating a contract extension with Byrd has taken a back seat. The Bills found a new head coach and fleshed out the rest of their coaching staff. Bills president Russ Brandon told The Buffalo News that the team will sit down together and determine how to proceed with the pieces they wish to keep around.
"The timeline is we need to sit down as a group personnel-wise and put our game plan together on how we're going to approach things," Brandon said.
Byrd is the first Buffalo Bills player to get the franchise tag since 2006.
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