"Byrd Man! Byrd Man! Byrd Man!" Aaron Williams bellowed this morning as he hung a white Buffalo Bills jersey outside Jairus Byrd's locker stall.
Players packed up their things at One Bills Drive and headed wherever they go when the season is over. Byrd made a brief appearance earlier, but was nowhere to be found when Williams was searching.
So, for a parting gift to Byrd, Williams signed his jersey with an inscription:
"To Byrd Man:
"Preciate everything you've done for me. Wish you the best of luck.
"Always ball out for Jesus! Phil 4:6."
Williams already had expressed to a group of reporters his feelings for Byrd. Williams declared them the NFL's best safety duo and stated his desire for the Bills to re-sign Byrd.
The Bills have another dicey situation ahead with Byrd. They used their franchise tag on him against his wishes and were unable to negotiate a long-term contract. Byrd played this season with a guaranteed, one-year franchise salary of $6.916 million.
The Bills can franchise Byrd a second time, but the price tag would rise to $8.299 million or the average of the NFL's five highest-paid safeties, whichever is greater.
"That decision is above my pay scale, but I would love to have Jairus Byrd back," Williams said. "We have a great chemistry. He's been with me since I got here. He's taught me a lot, especially at the safety position. He's helped me excel in my game in that area.
"We're, honestly, the best safety duo in the NFL. Say what you want. I don't know any other safety duos that put up the same numbers as Byrd and I.
"With that kind of chemistry I don't see why they wouldn't have to bring him back. We do a great job together. We make plays."
NFL scouts likely would prefer Seattle Seahawks safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor if they had their druthers. But Byrd and Williams were quite effective for the Bills.
Byrd missed the first five games with plantar fasciitis but tied Williams (and safety Jim Leonhard and linebacker Kiko Alonso) for the team lead with four interceptions. Williams missed the final two games with injured ribs.
They combined for eight interceptions, 17 pass breakups, a sack, three tackles for losses and two forced fumbles. Williams was second to Alonso with 82 tackles. Byrd had 48 tackles.
Fans liked what they saw. Byrd and Williams finished among the top eight at strong and free safety, respectively, in Pro Bowl balloting.
"I can look at Jairus without saying a word and know what he's thinking," Williams said. "He can do the same with me on the field. Just eye contact, the way we prepare ourselves each week, we now what has to be done on the field.
"Sometimes if you change players and positions, you don't know what the guy is thinking. Being with Byrd the last three years, I know what he's thinking. I know what kind of moves, jumps or disguises he wants to do without even talking."
Williams' move to safety salvaged a career that seemed to be going nowhere after two seasons. He started at cornerback after the Bills drafted him 34th overall in 2011. Opposing quarterbacks often picked on him.
He was a different player this year, and although he credited Byrd for helping his development, Williams played well without him, too.
"I don't know who that guy was the last two years," Williams said. "That guy's gone, and I'm back."