Regarding the Buffalo Bills’ top two free agents, fans can breathe a sigh of relief one almost surely will be back, but they should get used to the possibility of saying goodbye to the other.
The Bills on Friday made a commitment to Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd by using their franchise tag on him.
Left guard Andy Levitre, meanwhile, said he hasn’t received a contract proposal yet. The free agency period begins March 12.
“I’m in limbo right now,” Levitre said from his home in Northern California. “I don’t know what their plan is.
“Now that Jairus got his franchise tag, there’s a week and a half for them to work a deal out with me. But I haven’t been offered anything yet. We’re waiting around to see if something will pop up.”
The franchise tag means the Bills have extended a one-year qualifying offer to Byrd for a $6.916 million guaranteed salary, the average of the five highest-paid players at his position.
Clubs have the choice of designating their franchise tag as “exclusive” or “non-exclusive.” An exclusive franchise tag prevents other teams from negotiating with that player.
The Bills used a non-exclusive tag on Byrd. That will let him negotiate with other teams and sign an offer sheet. If he does, then the Bills will have the option to match the offer sheet or decline and receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.
The franchise tag provides time to hammer out a long-term contract, which the Bills and Byrd would prefer. Teams have until July 15 to negotiate multiyear contracts with their franchise players. After that date, franchise players can sign only one-year extensions.
Byrd also could refuse to sign the franchise offer. Franchise players who remain unsigned after Week 10 of the regular season become ineligible for the entire season.
Neither Byrd nor his agent, Eugene Parker, responded to messages left by The Buffalo News.
Byrd was fourth on the team with 76 tackles, including five for losses. He led the Bills with five interceptions and four forced fumbles. He tied for the team lead with two fumble recoveries.
Byrd and Levitre were Buffalo’s second-round draft choices in 2009.
Levitre is Buffalo’s most versatile and durable offensive lineman. He has played every position and hasn’t missed a start in his four seasons.
He now can hit the open market with the Bills receiving no compensation. He’ll be considered among the best O-line options in the free-agent pool.
Levitre said he would prefer to remain with Buffalo but admitted the prospect of striking it rich in free agency is appealing.
“It’s an exciting time for me, being able to have this opportunity,” Levitre said. “This position that I’m in, it’s once-in-a-lifetime for a lot of people. I don’t know if this’ll ever happen to me again.
“It would be in the Bills’ best interests to at least throw me an offer to see if we can get this thing rolling. There’s a lot of unknown for me.”
Given his worth, the Bills must weigh whether to re-sign him or commit those dollars to other positional needs.
“If the Bills offer me a fair deal, I would love to stay there,” Levitre said. “I’m very familiar with the place. I love the people there. My girlfriend’s from there. There are a lot of reasons to be there.
“It would be great to come back, but I understand the business aspect of it. Sometimes, things don’t work out. Hopefully, we’ll know something soon.”