The Buffalo Bills acted quickly to secure themselves at the safety position today by signing Aaron Williams to a four-year contract.
The move comes just two days after negotiations with free safety Jairus Byrd failed to result in a deal. The Bills opted not to try to retain Byrd's rights and did not put a franchise tag on him.
Williams, a second-round draft choice in 2011, is coming off a good year in 2013. He had produced inconsistent results at cornerback his first two seasons but switched to safety last year and played well. Williams had a career-high 82 tackles and tied with Byrd for the team lead in interceptions with four. Even though he's a three-year veteran, Williams does not turn 24 until next month. He has made 30 starts over three years.
His deal is worth a reported $26 million, or an average of $6.5 million a year, which would make him the ninth highest paid safety in the NFL. Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu is the highest paid safety, at an average of $9.8 million a year. However, by the time the contract kicks in, in 2015, Williams will be farther down the safety pay list. Byrd could challenge Polamalu's ranking. Byrd is due to hit free agency on Tuesday. Bills President and Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon said the Williams deal was "completely independent" of the talks with Byrd. But the reality is Byrd has waited five years to hit unrestricted free agency, and he is very likely to sign with another club.
"Aaron Williams is a versatile player who has grown into a key playmaker for our defense in recent years," said Bills general manager Doug Whaley in a statement released by the team. "He had an extremely productive season for our defense in 2013. Aaron is the type of young, core player we targeted early in the process to retain for years to come, and this will be our philosophy moving forward."
Williams' original contract was due to run out after the 2014 season. He played 81 percent of the defensive snaps last season, but he missed the last two games due to injury. He played 91 percent of the defensive snaps over the first 14 games.