Bills safety Jairus Byrd signs 1-year tender, set to earn $6.9 million this season
Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd has given himself more than enough time to be ready for the start of the regular season after signing his one-year, $6.9 million franchise tender Tuesday night.
The signing comes after the two-time Pro Bowler missed all of the team's offseason workouts, and nearly all of training camp.
Buffalo will hold its final practice in suburban Rochester on Wednesday afternoon before returning to its headquarters in Orchard Park, N.Y.
A person familiar with Byrd's plans told The Associated Press that the player is not in the Buffalo area and intends to join the team within the next couple of days. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Bills have only announced that Byrd has signed.
The person added Byrd's decision to sign the tender came without any assurances from the team that it won't apply the tag again next offseason. The Bills have the option to do that once more to prevent Byrd from testing free agency.
Bills president Russ Brandon has only said the team will continue its attempt to sign Byrd to a long-term contract once it is allowed to after the season. The two sides failed to reach an extended deal before a July 15 deadline.
The timing of Byrd's signing should not come as a surprise. The move was made to give Byrd enough time to assure him of collecting his entire salary.
Had he waited another week, the Bills — under NFL rules — could have been put in a position to ask the league for a one- or two-week roster exemption, during which time Byrd would not have been paid.
That option is now off the table, with Byrd having two weeks to prepare for the Bills' opener against New England on Sept. 8.
Byrd, a second-round pick out of Oregon in 2009, has 18 career interceptions — tied for the NFL's third-highest total since 2009.
Byrd is expected to be a focal point of the team's new scheme under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Speed and versatility have been the foundation of Buffalo's defense and the team has used a variety of pressure packages this preseason. That approach would appear to play to Byrd's strengths by creating opportunities for him in the secondary.
Byrd is not expected to play in Buffalo's third preseason game Saturday against Washington and it's uncertain if he will be ready to play in the team's preseason finale Aug. 29.
Earlier on Tuesday, general manager Doug Whaley said Byrd will have some work to do to learn the new system.
"A lot of it's just installation and the mental part of it," Whaley said. "It's a new system, it's an intricate system and safeties do make a lot of calls so he's missed that. ... So he's going to have some ground to make up but he's a professional. I know he'll come in here ready to work and try to contribute as much as possible."
When Byrd returns, it's expected that he will replace third-year pro Da'Norris Searcy in the secondary.
Former cornerback Aaron Williams has impressed since making the switch from corner to safety this offseason and is listed as the team's top strong safety on the depth chart. Byrd is Buffalo's top free safety.
Byrd was Buffalo's most consistent defender in 2012 and was added to the Pro Bowl roster as an injury replacement.
He led the Bills with five interceptions and four forced fumbles and finished fourth on the team with 76 tackles. The three players ahead of him on that list — George Wilson, Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard — are no longer with the team.
AP freelancer Mark Ludwiczak contributed to this story from Pittsford, N.Y.