Byard is One Titan Who Need Not Fret Free Agency
NASHVILLE – Kevin Byard is free to think ahead. And that is exactly what he has been doing.
A day after the Tennessee Titans’ 2019 season ended with a loss in the AFC Championship the Pro Bowl safety’s mind already was on what comes next.
“I want to be able to get 10 interceptions,” Byard said. “… I’m just trying to better myself and always try to set goals that seem unreachable. I was always taught when I was a child: Reach for the moon and somehow if you don’t reach the moon you’ll land among the stars.”
Four years into his career, that attitude has produced two significant results.
First, it has made Byard one of the NFL’s most productive players in terms of interceptions. His 17 for Tennessee are the most by any safety and second most by anyone over the past four seasons (Byard has gotten them all in the last three years). He tied for the league lead with eight in 2018 and needs just three more to become the 15 player in franchise history (the third of the Titans era) with at least 20.
It also earned him a payday ahead of the rest of his draft class.
A third-round selection out of Middle Tennessee State, Byard was the Titans’ fifth pick in the 2016 NFL Draft but the first to get a second contract. Franchise officials secured his services long-term with a five-year, $70.5 million extension at the start of last season’s training camp.
That has allowed Byard to focus on the future while so many other 2016 draft picks try to bring their respective futures into focus.
Of the 10 players Tennessee drafted that year, six were still on the team at the end of the 2019 season.
The other five, tackle Jack Conklin (first round), defensive tackle Austin Johnson (second round), running back Derrick Henry (second round), wide receiver Tajaé Sharpe (fifth round) and cornerback LeShaun Sims (fifth round), are all scheduled to be free agents in two weeks when the new league year begins. That means that have to stress over what they might be worth on the open market and where they might play next season and beyond.
All have started games for Tennessee. Conklin was an All-Pro as a rookie. Henry was a Pro Bowler and the league’s leading rusher in 2019, which makes him the most likely to be retained with a new contract or, if necessary, the franchise tag.
Byard is the only one be named to the Pro Bowl and earn All-Pro recognition – and the only one with a deal already in place for 2020 and beyond. That gives him peace of mind at a turbulent time on the NFL calendar as well as the opportunity to dream big.
“I feel like as long as I’m in the NFL I’m going to get interceptions,” he said. “That’s just my calling card. … It’s just a mentality that you have to have, that is the ball is in the air and it’s in your vicinity it’s yours. That’s always going to be a mentality that I’m going to have, all the mentality I’m going to take into next year.”