A lot will be written about Jairus Byrd in the next few days. As one of the biggest prizes in free agency, perhaps the best defensive player available, Byrd and his mega-contract with the New Orleans Saints will be a primary subject in free agent round-ups, analytical posts and how Rob Ryan might use his new prize. But what should be noted in tandem with the predictable conversation is this:
Jairus Byrd got what he wanted.
SB Nation NFL
SB Nation NFL
For nearly a year, Byrd has been making his case as an underappreciated safety for the Buffalo Bills. Just last summer, a report emerged that Jairus Byrd wanted to be the best-paid player at his position. The Bills reportedly countered by offering him the chance to be among the top five. He was given the franchise tag and the two sides couldn't find a common ground. In the end, he played under the tag and the pair were ready to dance again this offseason.
This time around, it was clear the impasse was too great. The numbers were specific this winter: $9 million per year. Three other safeties average $8 million or more -- Eric Berry of the Chiefs, Eric Weddle of the Chargers and Dashon Goldson of the Buccaneers. Byrd wanted to be the first $9 million player at safety in the NFL.
While some might still scoff at that price tag, the reality is that Byrd's emergence on the market came at the perfect time. In fact, the top dollar for elite-level free safeties will likely increase over the next few years. The ability to depend upon a center fielder like Byrd is key in today's pass-happy league, and the Seattle Seahawks showed just how valuable the position on the back end of the defense can be when Kam Chancellor helped shut down the mighty Broncos offense in their Super Bowl win. And let's not forget that Chancellor is well-paid himself at $7 million per year.
For the Saints to keep pace with the Seahawks and other contenders in the NFC this year, it's not enough to surround Drew Brees and hope to outscore the opponent. Rob Ryan's defense needed a playmaker on the back end, and they ponied up to get the best on the market. Several moves were made to get the money together, and analysis of Byrd's signing will be a common topic all year long as the results play out on the field. However, those are questions without answers for the next several months.
What can be determined in the present is that Jairus Byrd got his wish. To those who thought he wasn't worth it, the market proved otherwise. Byrd's wish to be the best-paid safety in the NFL is now a reality, and his $9 million annual salary is the amount that the Saints are wagering to make it to the top.