With the season the Buffalo Bills had in 2012 it was easy to miss a small collection of their players having good seasons. Among them was free safety Jairus Byrd who overcame two-straight sub par seasons to notch his second Pro Bowl in four years. He is one of the best up-and-coming young safeties in the game and primed for a big contract once NFL free agency rolls around again. The question is will it come in Buffalo or somewhere else?
Bills future with Byrd rests on Doug Marrone
It’s hard to argue with Buffalo slapping the franchise tag on Byrd when free agency arrived back in March. In addition to five interceptions, which ranked him third among all safeties in the league and first in the AFC, he also forced four fumbles, good for second among all defensive backs. After some growing pains following his outstanding rookie season, Byrd has developed into one of the premier playmaking defenders in the NFL. So why have the Bills not worked quickly to lock him up for the long haul? In simple terms, it is familiarity. Buffalo has a new head coach in Doug Marrone and with every new coach comes a new mindset for what kinds of players they want on the roster. Marrone did not draft Byrd. In fact the two have scarcely met in person since the safety hasn’t attended minicamp practices after contract talks stalled. That kind of start to a relationship can be awfully damaging between a player and coach. If Marrone feels it is in the best interests of his team to find a replacement, then Byrd could very well reach the open market in 2014.
Chicago not sold on Chris Conte and Major Wright
It won’t take long to find interested teams waiting for him. Among them is the Chicago Bears. One thing people have learned about GM Phil Emery in two seasons is that he is not above spending money if he believes it will improve his roster. Considering the Bears could boast over $40 million in salary cap space next year, it’s hard not to see them going after Byrd, who turns 27 in October. Another part of that interest rests in their own safeties. Chicago feels confident with the starting tandem of Major Wright and Chris Conte, but by no means are they sold on them. Wright is a free agent as well next season. The 2012 campaign was his best as a pro, snagging four interceptions and making 71 tackles. That said, it was also his first year he made it through all 16 games healthy. The same problem faces Conte as well, though his bigger issue is being unable to force more turnovers. In 24 starts he only has three interceptions. Both of them will have to prove to new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker they can continue developing. Otherwise Emery won’t hesitate finding a replacement.
Jairus Byrd will certainly rank at the top. He fits their scheme and they’ll have the money to fit his wallet.