We’ll know by 4 p.m. today whether safety Jairus Byrd will finish the season with the Buffalo Bills.
That’s when the NFL trade deadline arrives, and Byrd’s name has been a popular one floated in rumors seemingly from the time he reported to the team over the summer.
Byrd was asked Monday if he had an expectation of what might happen today.
“No, not really. I haven’t really given it too much thought,” he said. “I mean, I’m focused on winning games here. If something happens, it happens, but right now my focus is with my teammates here and just trying to win games.”
Byrd is coming off his most extensive playing time of the season in Sunday’s 35-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints. He was in on 90 percent of the defensive snaps (63 of 70), registering three tackles and one pass defensed.
“I love the way he’s playing. He’s close now to getting one,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said, referring to a game-changing play like an interception. “He’s playing well for us. So it’s just a matter of time — if people keep going near him — you know, he’s going to start making plays, because that’s what he does.”
Byrd said his physical condition continues to improve after missing the first five games of the season because of plantar fasciitis in both feet.
“Each game I feel better and better. You know, this game I got a lot more plays and stuff like that,” he said. “Each game I’m feeling stronger and stronger just getting back into the swing of things.”
He also feels increasingly comfortable in the scheme implemented by defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
“I think it’s good. I really think the scheme works. Obviously it’s been proven before from where he’s at, his track record,” he said. “It’s not predictable, which I’ve said before. It keeps people guessing and stuff like that. So I like it.”
Marrone deferred Monday to the general manager when asked whether he anticipated Byrd being with the team when it returns to practice Wednesday, but said that he “absolutely” wants him to be.
“I think Doug Whaley is better to answer that question,” the coach said. “For me I’m dealing with everyone that is here, so I haven’t heard anything, at least from my end. But again, no one is going to call me.”
ESPN reported earlier this month that the Bills were open to trading Byrd, who’s playing on a one-year contract worth $6.916 million as the team’s designated franchise player. The team has neither confirmed nor denied that report, with President Russ Brandon continually repeating that they are not actively shopping Byrd, but would listen if another team called.
Byrd is owed $3.661 million over the final nine weeks of the year. Because he’s under the franchise tag, the Bills or any team that were to trade for Byrd are prevented from offering him a contract extension until after the season.
The Bills do have the option of placing the franchise tag on Byrd again after the season should they choose, but it would come at a guaranteed price of $8.29 million. That seems unlikely. So if the team felt they would be unable to re-sign Byrd and that he would leave as an unrestricted free agent, a trade could make sense — provided they find a team willing to take the risk they could be only renting a player for eight or nine games.
Byrd, 27, is a two-time Pro Bowler. He has made 11 tackles and two passes defensed in his three games this season, with one start. In the first four full years of his career, he registered 308 tackles, 18 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles and 27 passes defensed.
If the Bills don’t find a deal acceptable to them today, or don’t want to, they could let Byrd walk as a free agent after the season. That could factor into whether they are awarded a compensatory draft selection in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Under NFL rules for compensatory picks, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive draft picks, which can fall between the third and seventh rounds.
Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors.
For example, the Bills lost guards Andy Levitre and Chad Rinehart in free agency following the 2012 season, and signed linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive tackle Alan Branch. Players who were released from their previous team and signed elsewhere do not factor into the formula.
So Byrd’s departure as an unrestricted free agent would not guarantee a compensatory draft pick in return, depending on what he did with his new team, and what else the Bills did in free agency.