ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo Bills General Manager Doug Whaley stopped short of admitting that Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd is gone but expressed confidence Monday that the organization can replace him if necessary.

The Bills' final big push to reach a contract agreement with Byrd before today's 4 p.m. deadline to use the franchise tag fell short. Whaley called the Bills' offer to Byrd's agent, Eugene Parker, "significant." But the Bills will not use the franchise tag on Byrd.

That means Byrd will hit unrestricted free agency in on March 11. The Bills still could sign Byrd in the next week before free agency starts. Whaley kept the door open to more talks with Parker. But realistically, the Bills needed to get a deal done by Monday. A league source told The News Byrd's intention is to hit free agency and see what his value is on the open market.

"We place a value on a person or player, they have a value they have in their mind, and we just have not been able to meet," said Whaley, referring to meeting on a contract value that was acceptable to both sides.

Why not put tag on him and then try to trade him? "That takes another team to do it with," Whaley said. "So we felt for the best long-term future of the Buffalo Bills was not to tag him. ... There's a lot of moving parts in that situation."

It probably would not be easy for the Bills to find a team that both wanted to meet Byrd's contract demands and then give Buffalo something substantial in return via a trade. The problem with keeping him for a second season under the franchise tag, which would have cost $8.4 million, is Byrd surely would have held out until the start of the regular season, as he did last year. Byrd wound up playing 10 full games for the Bills last season. But not having the leader of the defensive secondary for all of training camp and preseason is not the ideal way to go into a regular season.

Asked how important he viewed the free safety position, Whaley said: "Id have to start with a defensive end and a corner before you go safety."

"I know the fans are going to say why didn’t we get something for him?" Whaley said. "This system is not set up where you can sign everybody. We’ve done a great job signing guys that we’ve had. Look at Leodis McKelvin and Eric Wood last year. Freddie Jackson, Kraig Uribk. So we do put an emphasis on signing and keeping our players. It’s just with the salary cap system and the way the NFL is, you can’t keep everybody. But it also makes it exciting for our fans. Because they’re excited about Mario Williams. Houston, they lost him for nothing. So that’s just the system we have to deal with. I have complete confidence, not only in everybody in this organization that has given us the resources and the backing, but also our scouting staff, that if we are unfortunate enough to lose Jairus Byrd; we found him, we’ll be confident that we can get a replacement, if we don’t have one already on campus."

Asked if he considered Aaron Williams capable of being a No. 1 safety, if necessary, Whaley said, "Absolutely."