UPDATE: The franchise tag negotiation deadline came and went without Byrd signing a long-term deal.
Jairus Byrd had perhaps the most contentious situation of the eight players facing Monday's franchise tag negotiation deadline. The sticking point for Buffalo, as reported by WGRZ's Adam Benigni: Byrd is "demanding to be [the] highest paid safety" in the NFL.
That honor currently belongs to seven-time Pro Bowler and 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu, who clocks in with an average salary of approximately $9.125 million per season. Given some recent contracts at the safety spot, including Dashon Goldson's five-year deal in Tampa Bay worth $8.25 per year with $22 million guaranteed, Byrd's request may not be all that unreasonable.
He is, after all, just 26 years old (he'll turn 27 in October) and coming off a season in which he picked off five passes, knocked down six and forced four fumbles. Byrd also rated as the No. 2 safety in the league for the 2012 season, per Pro Football Focus.
The Bills can ill afford to lose him, either, so talks of a potential holdout ought to make them nervous -- Byrd has yet to sign his franchise-tag tender of $6.916 million. Buffalo did use a pair of late-round draft picks on safeties, Nevada's Duke Williams and Clemson's Jonathan Meeks, but neither they nor third-year player Aaron Williams would come anywhere close to filling Byrd's shoes.
In addition to concerns over the finances, though, Buffalo reportedly wants to see how Byrd plays in new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's scheme. While that's somewhat understandable, the delay certainly qualifies as a gamble for the Bills. A holdout by a disgruntled Byrd would put him behind the 8-ball with the new defense, while another impressive year from the 2009 Pro Bowler could price him out of Buffalo's comfort zone.
The latter scenario -- Byrd continuing to perform at an elite level under the tag tender -- would make the Bills' situation an even stickier one come next offseason. Would Byrd, after not receiving the contract he desired, be inclined to bolt for big money elsewhere? Or would Buffalo franchise tag him for a second time, at a further-elevated price?
These are the difficult waters any team must tread when a player goes through a year under the franchise tag. But the Bills are facing some significant ramifications, both salary-wise and in terms of Byrd's desire to stick around, if they opt not to pay up Monday. Byrd performed like one of the NFL's top safeties in 2012. One way or another, he seems determined to be rewarded.