It probably ends today, Jairus Byrd’s career with the Buffalo Bills. In five years Byrd accomplished enough to be considered, at least in some circles, the best free agent on this season’s market. He did it without the attention given to a .500 team, let alone a winner, let alone a playoff team, let alone a Super Bowl champion. Five years, five losers.
Byrd played for three head coaches in five years -- four coaches if you count Perry Fewell, the interim coach late in 2009 -- and four defensive coordinators, the fourth of which (Mike Pettine) left this winter. They’ve been about as stable as a snow globe balancing on a pencil.
Byrd and the Bills have been squabbling for more than a year. Byrd, reportedly, thinks he should be very highly paid. Why shouldn’t he? He’s been named to three All-Pro teams in five seasons. I don’t mean silly Pro Bowls, I mean All-Pro teams. If Byrd stayed in Buffalo and maintained his current pace he’d be the franchise’s leader in interceptions by the end of the decade.
Now it is his chance to decide, leave or stay. To me it’s an easy call, even without the squabbling.
Of course he should leave. Why should he stay?
It’s 14 years and counting without even a playoff appearance for the Bills, who, despite getting credit for making certain advances last year, in my opinion don’t have most fans feeling confident that the drought is nearing its end. It was 6-10 yet again last season, not quite an 8-8 or 9-7 campaign that you walk away from feeling like your team is at the playoffs’ doorstep, that it’s a matter of time before they make it.
What has felt like a matter of time is Byrd’s departure.
Will Byrd, disgruntled as he might be, follow the lead of certain other ex-Bills in taking stabs at the organization or city on his way out the door? Donte Whitner, Marshawn Lynch, Jason Peters, Willis McGahee ... all of them have made no secret of how leaving here felt like an escape. Whether he makes a point of it or not, I assume this is how Byrd also will feel.
Whitner, Lynch, Peters, and McGahee. Combined they’ve appeared in 27 playoff games since leaving. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Bills franchise has appeared in 25.
I’d hope, if not expect, Byrd to sign with a team that smells like a contender.
Free agency tends to be a big downer around here, be it through football or hockey. It’s when money in sports speaks the loudest, which tends to show Buffalo as small, out of the big boys’ league. An exciting, fun day on the calendar around here can be more of a day of mourning.
Not so in 2012 though, when instead of it being 28 degrees out it was 82, and Mario Williams brought his then-fiancee here on a perfect day in a private plane to sign the richest NFL contract ever inked by a defensive player. The Williams signing is a stark exception in Bills history, a known player choosing Buffalo instead of choosing to leave.
What became of that?
Williams has put up numbers and had his moments, to be sure. I think it’s hard to ask him for much more than he’s doing for the Bills. He’s not superhuman.
When I think of that signing I often think about what Rodney Harrison said of him after Williams’ first game as a Bill:
“My point here is,” Harrison said on ‘Pro Football Talk’ in September 2012, “you go out and get a $100 million deal, wouldn’t you have taken $80 million and gone somewhere where you could have been competitive every week?
“He’s financially set. So to come out as a free agent and decide to spend the prime time -- basically my prime years -- with the Buffalo Bills, you’re not going to make the playoffs. You’re not going to the Super Bowl.”
So far, so true.
Did by signing as he did with Buffalo, did Mario Williams exhibit a character flaw, at least in the eyes of his peers? Whether he did or didn’t, a player doesn’t want that criticism.
Playing for the Bills as someone they drafted is one thing. Choosing to play for them is quite another, and we see how that decision itself can look bad on you.
The time has come for Byrd to decide where he wants to play, how he wants to be remembered.
Good luck to the Bills on that one.