A trade of safety Jairus Byrd is the most logical course of action for the Buffalo Bills, but it’s going to be very hard to pull off by the NFL trade deadline.
Byrd practiced fully Wednesday and is poised to make his first appearance for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do from Day One,” Byrd said after practice. “A lot of people didn’t believe me, but now we’re here and now I finally get to go play, and I’m excited.”
However, the Bills can’t expect to get anywhere close to their money’s worth out of Byrd this season, and it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which he plays with Buffalo next season.
The NFL trade deadline is 4 p.m. Oct. 29, a little over two weeks away. Byrd already has missed five games while coping with plantar fasciitis in both feet.
Even though he’s healthy now, the Bills have to be concerned about him shutting it down over the last month of the season if his feet start giving him any problem. Will Byrd subject himself to a risk of injury in December with the prospect of free agency on the horizon if there’s even the slightest twinge in his feet?
Plenty of players play through pain to the end of their contracts. Stevie Johnson did it two years ago, then got rewarded by the Bills. But it’s not uncommon for a player who’s set to hit free agency to sit out late-season games. In 2008, Bills cornerback Jabari Greer sat out the last six weeks of his contract season with a minor knee injury. He struck it rich in free agency two months later.
The rebuilding Bills are not likely to be in the playoff race in December. Byrd will have little incentive to push himself onto the field if his feet are acting up.
It behooves the Bills to get whatever minimal late-round draft pick they can get via trade.
What about next season? If the Bills didn’t make an offer that met Byrd’s expectations last summer, what would make them do so next summer, after he missed much of the season? Furthermore, Byrd’s plantar fasciitis problem would appear to eliminate the possibility of the Bills placing a franchise tag on him next year. The Bills are paying Byrd $6.9 million this year. Next year, the tag value goes up to about $8.2 million. Do the Bills want to risk that much money only to see Byrd labor with plantar fasciitis again? Hardly.
Bills President Russ Brandon said on his WGR radio show Wednesday the Bills are not actively shopping Byrd. He did not rule out the possibility of a trade.
Several factors make a trade difficult.
One is money. If Byrd were dealt at the trade deadline, there would be nine weeks remaining in the regular season. That team would have to pick up the rest of Byrd’s salary, or $3.6 million. A team would need the cap space to make the deal and the willingness to pay.
Furthermore, the acquiring team couldn’t sign Byrd to a contract extension until after the season, under the franchise tag rules. Yes, the team could tell him it intends to make him a long-term offer that he likes. But he would be under no contractual obligation to agree. And what if he got hurt?
The acquiring club would have to be a good team in the playoff hunt with cap space and a willingness to rent him for half a season. That’s a tall order.
(A financial aside: Some teams deal a veteran and “absorb” the bulk of the player’s contract, allowing the acquiring team to pay only the veteran minimum amount. Arizona did this in sending Levi Brown to Pittsburgh last week. The rules are a bit gray as it relates to the tag. But league sources told The News their reading of the rules is that this is not allowed for a tagged player.)
One can understand why Byrd would want to be among the NFL’s top-paid safeties. Tampa’s Dashon Goldson signed a deal last offseason that averages $8.25 million a year. It made him the third highest-paid safety in the league. Byrd’s production through four years was superior to Goldson’s. Nos. 2 and 5 on the safety pay list (Eric Berry and Antrel Rolle, respectively) have contracts that are up after 2014.
One can understand why the Bills might not want to put Byrd into the $8.5 million-per-year penthouse. Safety is widely viewed as not as critical a position as cornerback or left tackle. The Bills have young players such as Marcell Dareus, Stephon Gilmore, Cordy Glenn and maybe C.J. Spiller to whom they might feel better about handing huge contracts down the road.
Byrd’s agent, Eugene Parker, had all summer to shop Byrd on the market. The suspicion here is Parker has identified a team that will give Byrd a deal he and his client deem acceptable.
Byrd was asked Wednesday how he reacted to those who have doubted his desire to get back as soon as possible.
“I don’t honestly,” he said. “I understand it’s part of this game. That’s part of the NFL. People are going to critique and give their opinion, and I’m fine with that. I know what I stand for.”
Bills coach Doug Marrone said he couldn’t be more satisfied with Byrd’s attitude.
“Absolutely, I have no questions whatsoever about that,” he said. “I don’t think that his mind was ever anywhere else outside of getting himself better.”
Byrd is back. The question is: for how long?