Byrd Further Solidifies Former 'Region Of Gloom' On Saints Defense
With so much attention being placed on signing TE Jimmy Graham to a long term contract, the voids that needed to be filled due to the numerous players being released by the New Orleans Saints in order to meet salary cap expectations were somewhat lost in the shuffle. Various positions, including wide receiver and safety, had noteable vacancies that needed to be filled because of the departures of veteran players like Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins and Lance Moore. The team quickly realized this and stepped up, filling the hole at safety with the signing of Jairus Byrd, formerly of the Buffalo Bills.
On the first day of free agency, New Orleans signed Byrd to an aggressive six-year, $54 million contract, $28 million of which is guaranteed. To many, this came as a surprising investment given New Orleans' troubles with the salary cap, but the masterminds working in the Big Easy have shown they are not hesitant to open up their wallets to make a big splash each offseason. The contract will most likely be back loaded to protect against the cap. It should also be noted that this is the second largest contract the Saints have ever handed out, with only QB Drew Brees' six-year, $60 million deal in 2006 standing in the way.
Byrd, 27, spent his entire five-year career in Buffalo and established himself as an elite player at the safety position. Some superlatives to compliment Byrd include being selected to the Pro Bowl three times along with 22 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 356 tackles over those five years. To put his value into perspective some more, he ranks second in the NFL in INTs over that span, behind only Asante Samuel and his whopping 25. As a rookie, Byrd hit the ground running and recorded nine INTs in just 12 games, including a solid stretch where he picked off the opposing quarterback in three consecutive games.
Byrd is viewed by many as the second best ball hawking safety in the league behind Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks, and if he can create turnovers and get the ball back into the hands of Brees, this team will be a serious Super Bowl contender. Byrd has shown consistency throughout his career, recording at least three picks and six deflected passes in all but one season. By signing Byrd, the Saints are expecting an increase in team turnovers, as they recorded just 19 total last season.
The tandem of Byrd and second-year player Kenny Vaccaro provides New Orleans with one of the best safety duos in the league, which is great news for a pass defense that was already ranked second in the NFL in 2013. Add to the mix CB Keenan Lewis and this will be a scary team for opposing QBs to throw against.
It is also worth mentioning that money is not what lured Byrd to this new destination, as is the case with many free agents this time of year - the culture of the team was instrumental in Byrd joining the Saints. He likes the powerhouse offense and tenacious defense that the team displays. In addition, Byrd enjoys the scheme that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan employs because it represents an aggressive and attacking style that parallels his personal style of play. Moreover, having the chance to play in the Superdome last season gave him the opportunity to experience the electric atmosphere and fan loyalty within its walls firsthand.
Byrd is not known for his blitzing abilities but under Ryan, he will get the opportunity to get at the QB more often. He did record a sack and three QB hurries on 13 pass rushing snaps last year and if his productivity exhibits those percentages, Byrd will be adding to the already ferocious pass rush of the Saints defense.
With so many uncertainties still remaining on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, the one constant that is now in place is a shutdown secondary that could rival the likes of the dreaded "Legion of Boom" in Seattle as the most feared in the league.