Teams that designated one of their free agents with the franchise tag(meaning that player is guaranteed a salary equal to the average of the top 5 paid players at that position), have until July 15th to sign that player to a multi year contract. If that does not take place, the player can only play under the one year franchise tender for the upcoming season.
Byrd, who has yet to sign the tender, would be under contract for the 2013 season at a salary of $6.916 million.
Players loathe the franchise tag because they much prefer a long term contract that comes with a big signing bonus and more guaranteed money than they'd make in the one year deal. Players are also concerned about the possibility of a significant injury during that one season which would certainly reduce their value when they get to unrestricted free agency.
Last year, the Atlanta Falcons placed the franchise tag on cornerback Brent Grimes. The good news was that Grimes earned $10.28 million in 2012 but he blew out his achilles tendon and when he became a free agent, Grimes could only manage a one year, $5.5 million contract from the Miami Dolphins. Washington tight end Fred Davis has a similar story to tell. Franchised in 2012, Davis earned $5.4 million but he too suffered an achilles tendon injury and settled for a one year, $2.5 million deal in free agency, well below what his market value would have been had Davis not been hurt.
We don't know for sure what the Bills are offering as far as term and dollars, nor do we know with certainty what Byrd, through his agent Eugene Parker, is looking for but we can make an educated guess. Since the tag is $6.9 million, its safe to say the Bills are offering at least $7 million a year. Since the tag means Byrd is getting paid the average of the top 5 salaries at safety, we should take a look at the top 5 paid safeties in terms of their average salary:
1. Troy Polamalu- Pittsburgh- $9.125million
2. Eric Berry- Kansas City- $8.34M
3. Dashon Goldson- Tampa Bay- $8.25M
4. Eric Weddle- San Diego- $8M
5. Antrel Rolle- NY Giants- $7.4M
Byrd is probably looking for an average in the range of 8-8.5 million dollars a year.
The Bills have three options here. They can stand firm with their offer, anticipating that Byrd will not accept it and will eventually sign the one year tender to play the upcoming season. After next season Byrd will once again be a free agent but the Bills can slap the franchise tag on him again meaning the two sides are right back in the same boat. The scenario probably wouldn't play out for a third straight year because a player tagged for three consecutive years receives quarterback tag money at that point. The franchise salary for quarterbacks is currently more than $14 million.
Option number two is to accept Byrd's proposal and agree to the multi year deal. The third option is to trade Byrd now if they anticipate never being able to reach a long term agreement.
The Bills will likely go with the first option and thereby buy themselves another year to see how Byrd performs in the new defense being implemented by Coordinator Mike Pettine. But to me the option that makes the most sense is give Byrd what he's looking for. It doesn't mean you just give in to any player when he's not happy with the team's offer but in my opinion, Byrd is either the best or second best(to Kyle Williams) player on the defense. He is a consistent playmaker and a leader on a group that doesn't boast enough of either.
Byrd, who will turn 27 in October, has 18 interceptions since joining the NFL as a second round pick in the 2009 draft. That total is tied for first among safeties over the last four years with Ed Reed. Byrd also has 10 forced fumbles which is tied for first among safeties as well. A two time Pro Bowler, Byrd has started 57 of the 62 games he's played in for the Bills and hasn't missed a game since his rookie season of 2009.
When Russ Brandon announced that Ralph Wilson had turned over day to day control of the team to him, he said the Bills will be all about winning from that day forward. What kind of message would be sent to the fans if one of their best players isn't on the field on day one of the new regime or if that player is allowed to leave through free agency? What message is being sent to the players in the locker room about the franchise's commitment to winning?
As I said, you don't just give every player what they want, you pick your spots. The Bills were correct in their decision not to give Andy Levitre a massive contract despite the fact that he was a durable and reliable part along the offensive line. Byrd, to me, is a different case since he has the ability to make game changing or game saving plays(see the Arizona and Miami wins last season).
If the Bills ink Byrd to a long term deal before the Monday deadline, they don't have to go through this mess again next season and can then turn their focus to the next important contract matter on the table. Center Eric Wood will be a free agent after the 2013 season.
If the Bills and Byrd shake on a deal, the team doesn't have to worry about the possibility that Byrd wont be at St. John Fisher for training camp. Byrd, who missed all of the voluntary Organized Team Activities and the one mandatory minicamp, is not under contract so he isn't obligated to report and therefore he isn't subject to any fines. Byrd could sit out all of the pre-season and show up right before the season starts, if he so desires. Its better to have Byrd in camp from day one learning Pettine's system.
Even if Byrd is a no show for camp, I doubt he would sit out any of the regular season because it doesn't make sense. Technically, Byrd has to show up by November 12th(week 10) in order to get credit for the season so he can once again be a free agent. But if he did that, Byrd would miss out on more than $3.5 million in salary.
If either side has leverage here, I think its the Bills since Byrd won't make a cent while he's sitting at home and its not like the Bills are contending for a Super Bowl but Byrd's absence would cripple those chances. Its a rebuilding season so the Bills aren't desperate to get a deal done at any cost.
The bottom line is the gap doesn't seem that troublesome. Perhaps $1 to $1.5 million a year over the life of a four or five year deal? On a team that has a payroll of more than $100 million on an annual basis, what's another million or so between friends? Just take it out of the cash windfall you receive from selling home games to Toronto!