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Jairus Byrd congratulates Mike Pettine, but safety mum on Bills future


Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd expressed happiness for Mike Pettine.

But Byrd didn't want to share how he felt about Pettine leaving the Bills to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns today.

"The ability to be a head coach in this league is hard to come by," Byrd told me by phone from Honolulu, where he's practicing for the Pro Bowl. "It's a special opportunity, a big opportunity. Congratulations to him."

Then Byrd demonstrated some of the same defensive acumen he shows on the field. He swatted away three questions about how Pettine's departure might affect Byrd's future with the Bills.

Me: What was your gut reaction to hearing Pettine had gotten the Browns job?

Byrd: "I'd really rather not answer that."

Me: You're entering your sixth season, and the Bills will have their fifth defensive coordinator. What are your thoughts on that?

Byrd [laughing]: "Same as the last one. I won't answer that one."

Me: How will Pettine's departure impact the likelihood you'll return to the Bills?

Byrd [laughing harder]: "You're oh for three."

Byrd will be an unrestricted free agent this year if the Bills don't place their franchise tag on him again.

The franchise tag prevents a player from hitting the open market. Byrd was upset when the Bills denied him the opportunity last year. A prolonged contract dispute lingered into the preseason.

Byrd was cautious in forecasting how today's development will matter.

"We've got to let a lot of things play out," Byrd said. "There are people who get paid to make big decisions. That's not my place. So we'll see how everything works out."

Byrd was one of the Bills' four defensive Pro Bowlers this season. Also in Hawaii are pass-rusher Mario Williams and defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.

"We talked among ourselves" about Pettine, Byrd said of the Hawaii crew, "but I'm going to keep it between us the things that we said."

Rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso could win defensive rookie of the year honors, and a few other Bills had the best seasons of their careers under Pettine.

"He put guys in position to make plays," Byrd said of Pettine. "That's what it was about on defense.

"But it's more than just the coordinator. The position coaches get the guys ready and are dealing with the guys on an everyday basis. It goes from Coach Marrone on down, a culmination of everybody."

Pettine deployed a version of the 46 defense made famous by Buddy Ryan and his twin sons, Rob and Rex. Pettine spent 11 years alongside Rex Ryan with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.

Finding someone who can replicate such a complicated defense might be difficult, especially if Pettine takes linebackers coach Jim O'Neil with him. O'Neil is a protégé who came to the Bills with Pettine from the Jets.

"I don't know," Byrd replied when asked about the difficulty of finding a replacement. "Obviously, it's hard thing to have a background with that system. But you never know."

  • ptato22

    Watch Byrd end up in Cleveland and the Bills with some DC incapable of pulling off the same kind of defensive play that Pettine delivered. I can't blame Pettine, but what does this mean for the Bills' defense? If the new guy changes the system, that could spell trouble. Let's hope they can find someone just as intense. No more retreads like Wannstedt. Get a youngish enthusiastic guy that has energy and brains. Good luck.

  • WHAT?

    Did you again tell Byrd that the Bills's front office wanted him to have a lousy season?

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Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.