ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills are playing the waiting game with Jairus Byrd while hoping to sign their star safety to a long-term contract extension.
Byrd was the only member of the Bills not in attendance for the start of Buffalo's first voluntary minicamp under new coach Doug Marrone on Tuesday. His absence was not a surprise, however, after the safety was given the franchise tag on March 1.
General manager Buddy Nix said at the team's predraft luncheon that the Bills are hoping to sign Byrd to a multiyear deal, but Nix doesn't know when talks will start to pick up.
"There's been some contact and we're making an effort to try to get a long-term deal done with Jairus," Nix said. "But you know -- and I don't mean this in a bad way -- I haven't given it much thought. I don't mean that we're not interested, because we certainly need him and eventually he'll probably be here. But there's nothing we can do except try to get a contract done. If it doesn't work, then the ball's in his court. He comes when basically he gets ready."
The Bills could certainly use Byrd as they attempt to make over one of the worst defences in the league last season Buffalo finished 26th in the NFL in points allowed last year and 22nd in yards allowed.
The 26-year-old Byrd has been Buffalo's most consistent defender in recent seasons. A second-round pick in 2009, Byrd was fourth on the team in tackles in 2012 with 76 and led the team in interceptions with five. He has 18 career interceptions, tied for third most among NFL players since 2009. His breakout season came as a rookie when he tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions.
New defensive co-ordinator Mike Pettine plans on installing a hybrid defence that attacks opposing quarterbacks, which could play to Byrd's strengths. Byrd excels in deep coverage and would benefit from an improved Buffalo pass rush.
"We'd love to have him here yesterday, but we don't," Nix said. "So we're going to work hard to get ready these guys that we've got."
By giving Byrd the franchise tag, the Bills essentially gave the safety a one-year contract offer worth $6.9 million. Byrd does not have to accept the offer and is free to negotiate with other teams. The Bills have the right to match any offer Byrd receives or get two first-round picks in return as compensation from any team that signs Byrd.
Byrd is one of two players in the league to remain unsigned after receiving the franchise tag. Denver offensive tackle Ryan Clady is also without a contract, while the six other tagged players signed their one-year offers.
The Bills also announced a change on the depth chart behind Byrd. Aaron Williams, a second-round pick in 2011, has moved from cornerback to safety. The 22-year-old has struggled in coverage throughout his time in the pros, prompting the position switch.