Despite an apparent desperate need for salary cap space, the New Orleans Saints pulled off arguably the biggest move of Day 1 of free agency, signing safety Jairus Byrd to a six-year deal. Byrd was reportedly seeking a deal worth $9 million per season and he got it, as the deal with the Saints is worth $54 million, including $28 million guaranteed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The contract is the richest for a safety in NFL history, both in terms of total value, annual average salary and guaranteed money. Byrd made slightly less than $7 million last season while playing on the franchise tag. He played in just 11 games, but still managed to make the All-Pro team for the third time. Although the massive paycheck catches attention, Byrd is on the shortlist of the best safeties in the league. He's developed a reputation as a ballhawk -- with 22 career interceptions -- and should pair extremely well with second-year safety Kenny Vaccaro.
The combination of Vaccaro and Byrd may be the best in the NFL, or at least in the discussion with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in Seattle. The Saints' defense improved dramatically last season and the addition of Byrd could help New Orleans take another step forward.
While Byrd received the deal he wanted, the team giving it to him is a significant surprise. New Orleans was forced to release several veterans and key contributors just to get under the salary cap. Even after slashing the roster, the Saints had very minimal salary cap space -- roughly $3 million -- to work with. With it being a six-year deal, the Saints should be able to create a relatively low cap number in the first year of the deal. That will, however, push some major cap hits down the road. With Drew Brees already accounting for a major portion of the salary cap and Jimmy Graham still awaiting the richest tight end deal in NFL history, the Saints are putting a lot of eggs in a few baskets.
The strategy could pay off in the short term, but there will be ramifications down the road. For now, New Orleans pulled a Houdini and came away with the prize of free agency. Somehow.