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Can the Bills afford to use the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd again?

Can the Bills afford to use the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd again? Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd might have played his last game for the Bills. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

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Jairus Byrd has been tweeting pictures of himself at the Louvre.

We can only assume he was at the museum as a tourist, not a shopper.

With his next contract, he probably could buy a masterwork or two.

Byrd, the three-time Pro Bowl safety, is heading toward free agency for the second year in a row. Once again, the Buffalo Bills will have difficult decisions to make.

The two plausible ways for the Bills to retain Byrd would be to use another franchise tag on him or blow him away with a long-term contract offer.

The period for teams to use their franchise tags begins Monday and lasts two weeks.

The Bills might not make that call immediately. They waited 11 days to place their franchise tag on Byrd last year.

Falling within the franchise-tag window is the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. As the Bills did last year, they will meet there with Byrd's agent, Eugene Parker, and try to gauge the temperature for what it would take to sign a long-term deal.

Parker and Bills senior vice president of football administration Jim Overdorf have spoken since the season ended, but contract parameters haven't been discussed yet.

Although being deemed your team's "franchise" player sounds like an honor, players don't view it that way. Franchise tags take away a player's chance -- many players consider it a right -- to discover what their value is on the open market.

The tradeoff is that a franchise player can sign his tag and receive a guaranteed, one-year salary equivalent to the average of the five highest-paid players at his position.

Guaranteed millions are wonderful. Long-term security is far more desirable.

That's why Byrd didn't like the franchise tag last year.

Drama ensued. He missed all offseason workouts, every practice at St. John Fisher College and all four preseason exhibitions. He didn't play the first five regular-season games with wearisome foot injuries.

Byrd would loathe a repeat franchise tag even more.

The Bills know this. They also know they'd have to pay him more if they franchised him a second time.

The franchise tag for safeties was $6.916 million last year, but a repeat tag on a given player raises the guaranteed salary 20 percent or the average of the five highest-paid players at that position, whichever is greater.

Byrd's tag for this year would be $8.299 million. Many analysts believe that's too much money for a safety.

If the Bills and Byrd can't hammer out a long-term deal and Byrd signed his franchise tag again, then the Bills will have spent over $15 million guaranteed for two seasons, the specter of more drama this year and no assurances for 2015.

That's why a long-term deal is the more prudent approach for the Bills.

The Bills also have an advantage over the other 31 teams. Until March 8, three days before the free-agency period begins, the Bills will have exclusive negotiating rights with Byrd.

But are the Bills willing to offer the contract numbers Byrd desires?

The problem in negotiating a long-term contract is that Byrd is considered every bit the player -- maybe better -- than safeties averaging at least $8 million a season.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year made free agent Dashon Goldson the third highest-paid safety with a five-year, $41.25 million contract, including $22 million in guarantees. The Bucs likely overpaid because they were about $70 million under the salary cap when free agency began.

Byrd is widely considered better than Goldson. The only two safeties who make more than Goldson are Kansas City Chiefs star Eric Berry and Pittsburgh Steelers poster boy Troy Polamalu. It's a minor point, but both of them are premier strong safeties, while Byrd, like Goldson, is a free safety.

San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle ranks fourth in average salary, with a five-year, $40 million contract and $19 million in guarantees.

In only 11 games, Byrd tied for the team lead with four interceptions. He recorded 48 tackles, one for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.

When quarterbacks threw into Byrd's coverage, analytics site ProFootballFocus.com charted them for a 35.0 passer rating, second-lowest for all safeties behind Glover Quin of the Detroit Lions.

Byrd finished seventh among free safeties in Pro Bowl fan voting, but the other two parties in the selection process -- players and coaches around the league -- respected Byrd enough to make him one of the three original free safeties for the roster.

The other two were Berry and Seattle Seahawks monster Earl Thomas, both of whom, by the way, will be free agents in 2015.

So the financial standard for elite safeties is going to get much higher next year, a fact of which Parker almost certainly is aware.

Teams can use the franchise tag on only one free agent. Another possibility is kicker Dan Carpenter, who had one of the greatest kicking seasons in Bills history.

Kickers are the most inexpensive position to franchise. The NFL hasn't officially calculated this year's franchise numbers yet, but last year the five highest-paid kickers averaged $2.977 million.

The Bills, though, drafted kicker Dustin Hopkins in the sixth round last year. A groin injury at the end of the preseason eventually sent him to injured reserve.

Carpenter became Hopkins' emergency replacement on Sept. 3. Carpenter tied the club record for field goals in a season (33), recorded the second-best field-goal percentage (91.7) and recorded the third-most points (131).

Buffalo's other possible 2014 free agents include fullback Frank Summers, tight ends Scott Chandler and Mike Caussin, tackle Thomas Welch, defensive end Alex Carrington, linebacker Arthur Moats and safety Jim Leonhard.

  • Jan Reimers

    Aren't we many, many $ Million under the cap? Isn't Byrd a Pro Bowler and one of the two or three best free safeties in the league? Don't we have several holes to fill, without creating another?nnnIsn't it obvious that we should sign Byrd long term?

    • BuffaloFan4Life

      Obvious only to an NFL franchise that allowed it GM to make all personnel decisions, based on his judgement of talent and his expertise on staying within the NFL salary cap. We may never know if Whaley has those talents or not, since Overdorff does all the negotiating himself.

  • BuffaloFan4Life

    "...Parker and Bills senior vice president of football administration Jim nOverdorf have spoken since the season ended, but contract parameters nhaven't been discussed yet...."nnnAnd there you have it folks, in one simple sentence. Ralph Wilson, through his two long time team executives, still runs this organization from top to bottom. Littman and Overdorf. In truth, there is no "Team President, Russ Brandon". And there really is no "General Manager, Doug Whaley", either. Whatever those two men want to do, obviously has to be run by Littman and Overdorf, the two money men.nnnWhat a joke this organization has become. I'm just thankful I was around when Bill Polian re-built this team starting the day he took over as GM in December of 1985. While it seems Doug Whaley doesn't even speak to players' agents these days, Bill Polian once challanged Jim Kelly's agent to get down into a football stance and do a nut cracker drill right in the team offices at One Bills Drive. (Or so I read).

  • Paul Piluso

    As I recall, Byrd, already set the parameters (according to an article, I read on B/R, which I can't pull up, so correct me if I'm wrong) 5 years 45M, 20M guaranteed. Supposedly, what I read from both sides, is there is no animosity between the BILLS and Byrd and vice-a-versa. Also, according to GM Whaley, the BILLS are in the business of collecting the best players available and Byrd is one of the best players available. Also, I read from GM Whaley and Russ Brandon, that the Bills chose to Franchise tag him last year, to see if he could still compete at the same high level he had shown in the past under a new defensive scheme. That was fascinating to me then, since Byrd, had competed at a high level, under 4 different DC's in 5 years. In my opinion, Byrd has proven himself, the Bills haven't yet. They missed the boat last year, but with all the coaching changes and a new GM, I'll give them a break. However, now, they need to put their money, where there mouth is and pay the man.

    • Dexter_Morgan_II

      notice that Goldson at $41mil is 3rd highest. who let him go? 49ers who still made the playoffs. you cannot have many players over $6 mil mark - cap wont handle it. they can afford byrd this year but nor far into the future when all the young stars start hitting FA. One of the factors good teams take into account in deciding whether or not to break the bank on a player is the level of backup they have. with that said, bills certainl did not do that last year when they let levitre (and reinhart) walk, however, in byrds case, they have a lot of quality players at the safety position. personally, I think they should either 1]franchise him one more year then let him go, or 2]sign him to a 5 year contract with little bonus so they can trade him in 2 years with little dead money. over the next 3 years you are looking at very expensive positions coming due (LT with Glenn, spiller, A Williams also at safety, kiko, woods dareus) who do you want to lose from that bunch?
      you cannot judge the byrd situation simply from the standpoint that he is good and this year's cap has the space. too shortsighted

  • Paul Piluso

    TO Jim Overdorf: Are you getting paid a % of the money under the Salary cap?nTO President Russ Brandon: Who is in Charge? (We know, even if you don't..)nTO GM Doug Whaley: Are you looking for for another job yet? (Ever feel like playing "Tied to The Whipping Post" over and over again).nTO HC Marrone: Has Pettine offered you a job as the OL Coach in Cleveland, yet?nTO OC Hackett: Has any NFL team approached you to be their OC? (Fat Chance)!

  • Paul Piluso

    I'm glad, I saw Byrd, at the Louvre, rather than tanning Au' Natural', in St. Tropez!

  • WHAT?

    Carrington, Byrd and probably Moats are going to walk. Leonhard may not be resigned (proved to be a liability in the run game due to size, not heart or intelligence) Caussin, Welch are borderline, developmental projects. Hard to read what will happen there.

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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 NFL.com 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.