BY SEAN DONOVAN
The Buffalo Bills were still hopeful that they could find a way to re-sign three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, even after earlier negotiations fell short and he was allowed to test the free agent market.
Those hopes ended late on Tuesday, when Byrd landed in a very unlikely spot.
The New Orleans Saints announced they signed Byrd to a six-year deal via their Twitter account. ESPN reported the deal to be worth $54 million with $28 million guaranteed, making Byrd the highest paid safety in the NFL.
The terms of the contract, while substantial, were not at a surprise for Byrd, one of the top free agents of any position this year. What was a surprise was that it came from the Saints, who were unexpected players in the top tier of the free agent market due to their cap situation.
As recently as a couple of days ago, New Orleans was among the teams that needed multiple cuts and restructures to get under the league's $133 million salary cap. According to OverTheCap.com, the Saints had an estimated $1.9 million in cap space entering free agency, lowest among all 32 teams.
That wouldn't be nearly enough space to sign the incoming rookie class, much less the top safety available to a deal worth $9 million annually. New Orleans will certainly need to continue cutting veterans and restructuring deals to get under the salary cap.
The length of Byrd's deal will, however, allow New Orleans to be creative with its structure; expect it to be heavily cap deferred towards the later years and laden with bonuses.
Regardless of the financials, the move pairs one of the league's most talented safeties with the Saints' blossoming second-year safety Kenny Vaccaro to fortify the back end of Rob Ryan's defense. Along with cornerback Keenan Lewis, New Orleans is now home to one of the most formidable secondaries in the league.
It's unclear if the Bills had a chance or were willing to match the Saints' offer.
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