The Jairus Byrd era in Buffalo has officially reached its conclusion. The New Orleans Saints announced that the three-time Pro Bowl safety has signed with the team after spending the previous five seasons with the Bills. The news was first announced on the Saint’s official website as six-year deal.
Adam Schefter reports the six-year deal for Byrd is for $54 million and more importantly includes $28 million guaranteed.
Already one of the best safeties in the game, Byrd will now be paired with a rising safety star in his own right in Kenny Vaccaro. Even without Byrd the Saints had the second-best pass defense in the NFL in 2013.
The Saints are certainly a surprise choice to most when it comes to Byrd’s landing spot. Several teams were linked to Byrd over the past few days; a list that included Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland and Miami among others.
The Saints also entered the day with roughly just $2.7 million in available cap space.
Since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2009 Byrd has 22 interceptions in the league. Only Asante Samuel (25) has had more.
Byrd, 27, played under the franchise tag last season and wasn’t happy about it. He then refused to sign his tender all the way through training camp and when he did report, did so with plantar fasciittis, which forced him to miss the team’s first five games. Still, Byrd played in 11 games in 2013, picked off four passes and was effective enough overall to earn his third Pro Bowl nod as well as being second-team All-Pro..
In a move last week many viewed as surprising and others downright controversial, the Bills failed to place the franchise tag on Byrd for a second season at a rate that would’ve cost $8.4 million for 2014.
The Bills have now let a key free agent walk away for nothing in consecutive offseasons. Last year it was guard Andy Levitre, who bolted to Tennessee as the Bills tried unsuccessfully to replace him with Colin Brown and Doug Legursky. Unless the Bills sign a safety in free agency or draft one high, the formidable task of replacing Byrd is likely to fall on the shoulders of Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams.
Byrd thanked Buffalo for his time in a statement on the Saints team website.
“I first want to thank the Buffalo Bills organization and the great fans of Buffalo for their support during my time there. I think there are great things to come here in New Orleans and I’m excited to join this team,” Byrd said. “We played against the Saints this year and I saw their style of play and was impressed by it. I think I will fit well in the scheme. This is a great opportunity to join a championship organization. I look forward to meeting my new teammates and being part of a great Saints defense.”
Maybe we’ll see in the coming days how authentic the Bills really were in trying to re-sign him once the franchise tag deadline passed. A team source told me whatever offer the team had for Byrd remained on the table through the start of free agency. Whether the Bills offer was better than or similar to the Saints is unknown. It’s also completely irrelevant as of now.
By joining the Saints, even the harshest Byrd critics can’t accuse of him of being a mercenary and indulging in a straight money grab. Byrd said all along he wanted the chance to play for a winner and by joining New Orleans for that kind of loot, he clearly got the best of both worlds.