Byrd returns to Bills’ nest - The Buffalo News
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Byrd returns to Bills’ nest

PITTSFORD — Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd signed his one-year franchise tender with the Buffalo Bills late Tuesday night.

Byrd, 26, was designated the team’s franchise player March 1. The two sides, however, could not agree on a long-term contract by the July 15 deadline. That meant once that deadline passed, Byrd could only sign for one year. The franchise tag for safeties calls for a guaranteed salary of $6.916 million.

The agreement came roughly nine hours after General Manager Doug Whaley told reporters in the afternoon there was “unfortunately, nothing new to report.”

“We hope he gets in here before the season opener,” Whaley said, “but only he can tell us that one.”

By the conclusion of the team’s final night practice of training camp at St. John Fisher College, Whaley had his answer – and the Bills had a surprise.

A source close to the situation told The Buffalo News there had been no substantive contract talks recently, and Byrd unexpectedly signed his tender. As an unsigned player, Byrd was not subject to fines for missing training camp practices.

Byrd and his agent, Eugene Parker, could have tried to sign a deal with another team, but that team would have had to give the Bills two-first round draft picks as compensation.

The Bills and Byrd did not negotiate a “no-tag” provision for 2014, meaning the Bills could use the franchise tag on him again next year, but to do so it would cost them nearly $8.3 million, as the franchise player rules dictate that Byrd receive a 20 percent raise over his 2013 salary.

Byrd had until Nov. 12 to report to be given credit for a season of NFL experience toward free agency. Had he held out during the regular season, Byrd would have started to miss checks. Players are paid over the 17 weeks of the NFL season.

An overlooked and likely reason for Byrd to sign Tuesday is the decision guarantees he will be paid for every game in the regular season.

After final roster cuts, teams are allowed to request a two-week roster exemption for players returning from a contract standoff.

Players can’t play and do not get paid if they don’t count against the roster.

Therefore, had Byrd reported right before the regular season began and the NFL had granted the Bills’ roster exemption, then Byrd would’ve missed paychecks.

By signing his deal Tuesday, all of that becomes moot.

The challenge for him now will be to learn new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system.

“A lot of it’s just installation and the mental part of it,” Whaley said earlier Tuesday. “It’s a new system. It’s an intricate system, and safeties do make a lot of calls. So he’s missing that and a lot of just the tempo of practice.

“So he’s going to have some ground to make up, but he’s a professional. I know he’ll come in here ready to work and try to contribute as soon as possible.”

Whaley declined to answer whether the Bills were supplying Byrd with a playbook and practice film.

“We’ll keep that between us,” he said.

In making the announcement, the Bills did not say when Byrd will report.

The team holds its final training camp practice from 2 to 5 p.m. today at St. John Fisher, then returns to its Orchard Park headquarters to continue preparations for its third preseason game at Washington on Saturday.

Byrd has started 57 of 62 career games after joining the team as a second-round draft pick out of Oregon in 2009.

He made the Pro Bowl in 2012 after recording 76 tackles, five interceptions, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and six passes defensed.

He set a team record for interceptions by a rookie with nine in 2009 and shared the NFL lead in that category – earning a selection to the Pro Bowl.

Since his rookie year, he is tied for the league lead among safeties with 18 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles.

Byrd did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

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