Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. This year we want your opinion on what the most likely answers to these questions will be. After reading each daily installment as the Bills get set for Year 1 under head coach Doug Marrone, go to the Bills daily fan poll leading up to report day at training camp and vote. You could be eligible to win tickets to night practice. Here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and the Sept. 8th home opener.
The Bills defense is expected to be much improved this season. Equipped with a cutting edge defensive coordinator that has a proven track record in Mike Pettine, and plenty of talent up front, the attacking mindset is expected to reap much bigger rewards than Buffalo has seen in recent seasons. One key piece on the back end however, has been noticeably absent. Franchise-designated player Jairus Byrd has yet to sign his franchise tender, and the Pro Bowl safety and the club have less than a week to negotiate a long term contract. Will Byrd sign long term?
The franchise tag has been on Byrd for over four months now, but he has yet to sign the $6.916M tender. Had he done so that money would be guaranteed for the 2013 season. By not signing the tender Byrd was not required to participate in the team's mandatory minicamp in June.
"He doesn't have to (be here), and that's the thing," said Marrone last month. "As long as the rules say you don't have to be here I respect him as a professional athlete and a football player."
With the likelihood of a long term contract being reached between the two sides by July 15th becoming less likely with each passing day the options are relatively limited for both the Bills and Byrd.
After July 15th comes and goes Byrd and the Bills cannot sign a long term contract until after the 2013 regular season. At any point in time Byrd could sign his franchise tender and play under that one-year deal in 2013.
The Bills have been steadfast in their desire to keep Byrd in the fold long term.
"We recognize that Jairus is a good player and we're in the business of collecting good players," Bills GM Doug Whaley told Buffalobills.com. "We're going to continue the negotiation process, but we'll also continue to not negotiate in the press."
Set to turn 27 in October, Byrd is entering the prime of his career, so it's understandable that the safety wants to receive maximum value for what he brings to the field. If he signed the franchise tender he would be the fourth-highest paid safety in the NFL in terms of 2013 base salary. Only Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu ($7.5M), Kansas City's Eric Berry ($7.01M) and the Giants' Antrel Rolle ($7M) would exceed the $6.916M Byrd would earn this fall.
It sounds as if the Byrd camp has an average salary per year figure in mind that exceeds the value of the franchise tender ($6.916M). On a long term deal it's logical that Byrd's representation is looking for a contract that averages more than $8M a season. NFL agents typically want a higher average salary figure on long term deals to give the contract proper staying power in terms of its value over the long haul.
Averaging more than $8M a season however, is a figure only three other NFL safeties enjoy.
Polamalu's contract averages a league-leading $9.125M per season. He's followed by Berry ($8.34M) and Tampa Bay's Dashon Goldson ($8.25M), who signed earlier this offseason as a free agent.
Byrd has started 57 of 62 games played since joining the Bills in 2009 as a second-round (42nd overall) draft selection, including all 16 last season. He's missed a total of two games in his career, both of which came in his rookie season. The two-time Pro Bowl selection is tied for first among safeties in the NFL since 2009 with 18 interceptions with Houston's Ed Reed.
Goldson (14) and Weddle (14) are tied for second with Polamalu (13) holding the third-highest total over that span at the safety position.
Byrd is also tied at the top of the list among safeties for forced fumbles since 2009 with 10 with New Orleans' Roman Harper and free agent Quintin Mikell. None of the aforementioned top paid safeties have more than half the number of forced fumbles as Byrd.
The takeaway ability of Byrd would presumably flourish even more in Pettine's aggressive, attacking system, which is predicated on forcing opposing quarterbacks to make decisions quicker than they'd like. The safety has indicated a willingness to re-sign with the Bills.
"Yeah re-signing with Buffalo, I have no problems, but I know that around this time it's about business, so I understand that too," said Byrd late last season. "I love the fans here. We just have to win. That's the biggest thing, just winning and I want to be somewhere where I'm wanted too. I want people to want me here and if that's the case I have no problems with Buffalo."
Should the July 15th deadline to negotiate a long-term contract come and go without an agreement, when Byrd chooses to sign the one-year tender becomes the next prevailing question.
As long as he does not sign the franchise tender Byrd cannot be fined for any part of training camp that he might miss since he's not under contract.
A last resort option is a sign and trade of Byrd, though Buffalo would not be able to trade the safety until he signed with them first.
With the non-exclusive franchise tag, other NFL clubs have been free to present Byrd with an offer sheet knowing that if Buffalo chooses not to match they'd be forced to compensate the Bills with a pair of first-round draft choices.
The Bills and another NFL club could negotiate lesser terms if they chose to do so.
Ultimately, the Bills are hoping to cement Byrd's long-term future in Buffalo. How, when and if it will happen is up to those two parties.