Jairus Byrd can be diplomatic only to a point.
The Pro Bowl safety claimed he hadn’t ruled out a return to the Buffalo Bills until he actually signed his lucrative New Orleans Saints contract late Tuesday night.
He tempered his praise for the Saints organization with avowals that it shouldn’t reflect poorly on the Bills.
He stressed his appreciation for the Bills and their fans by posting this message on his Facebook page Wednesday afternoon:
“It was an absolute blessing to have been a part of the Buffalo Bills for the last five years. Russ Brandon and Ralph Wilson, thank you so much for giving me my start in the NFL. To the entire Bills organization and all of the amazing fans, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
But there’s no denying that losing gets old.
“It’s tough,” Byrd told The Buffalo News from New Orleans. “It’s definitely tough, not being able to win, to have your season be over early, never having a chance to compete late in the season.”
In Byrd’s five seasons with the Bills, they never won more than six games. He played for three head coaches and four defensive coordinators. Had Byrd stuck around, he would have played for a fifth coordinator in six years.
“It was definitely a hard thing to go through,” Byrd said, “but it makes you better. You appreciate things a lot more.
“By no means am I saying anything negative about the Bills and the direction they’re going. They’re heading in the right direction, but it is what it is.”
The Bills declined to use their franchise tag on Byrd for a second straight year. Two sources told The News the Bills’ best offer to Byrd averaged about $7.5 million a season.
The Saints signed Byrd to a six-year contract worth $54 million and nearly $28 million in guarantees.
New Orleans got Byrd’s first visit because it was the most aggressive in expressing interest in Byrd.
Byrd said one of the reasons he chose the Saints was “to further my legacy” in football. That’s important to Byrd, the son of two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Gill Byrd and protégé of Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams.
“What do people remember you for? What mark did you make on this game?” Byrd said. “That’s what legacy means to me.”
At his introductory news conference Wednesday, he spoke about the elements that drew him to the Saints. He mentioned “the winning culture” and the chance to provide exactly what their defense has been missing.
The Saints are a perennial contender, and as long as coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees amass points, a playmaker such as Byrd will have the opportunity to make an impact against opponents that are routinely trying to catch up.
“Any time you have that explosive offense, it always helps,” Byrd said. “If you’re a guy on defense and you know a team is able to get leads on people, jump out to early leads, that bodes well for guys like me who want to get turnovers and create turnovers because it makes another team one-dimensional.
“That’s a really big factor and what allowed me to weigh all my options and think about what the best situation was for myself.”
The Saints had 19 takeaways last year. Only three teams had fewer. They broke even in turnover ratio, tied for 14th in the NFL.
Byrd recorded 22 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and five recoveries in 73 career games for Buffalo.
“Anytime you can have a defense with what they had here last year and have an offense that’s already potent and explosive, it’s kind of like a yin and the yang,” Byrd said. “They work off each other. Anytime you have that explosive offense, you’re going to need a defense that can hold teams down.”
Byrd also expressed his affinity for the Superdome’s energy. The Saints have one of the NFL’s greatest home-field advantages.
“That was big,” Byrd said. “Playing here last year, I saw how the atmosphere was. It was electric.
“They’re really behind their team. The dome was rocking when I was here. They feed off that, and I think that’s really big. Anytime you’re playing football on defense, you always want to have that noise.”