Q-and-A: GM Whaley says not tagging Byrd ‘sets up more amicable negotiation’

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – By not franchise-tagging Jairus Byrd again, the Buffalo Bills might stand a better chance of signing him to a long-term deal.

That’s what Bills GM Doug Whaley told me Tuesday morning in an interview inside the team’s fieldhouse, during the University of Buffalo’s pro day.

In his first full off-season as GM, Whaley answered questions not only about the team’s three-time Pro Bowl safety — who is set to become a free agent next Tuesday at 4 p.m. EDT — but also about the team’s “aggressive” plan for free agency, and the team’s quarterback situation.

Here’s a transcript of my interview with Whaley:

 

Regarding the decision not to tag Jairus Byrd, and in the event he does not re-sign, many Bills fans want to know why you would let a valuable Pro Bowl player leave without any immediate compensation?
“There are a lot of moving parts to doing that. If you try to franchise him and trade him, then you’ve got to find somebody that’s going to give you the proper compensation, and then you have to have them feeling confident enough to then sign him … The best path for the Buffalo Bills was not to take that chance.”

 

By not tagging Jairus, does it somehow increase your chances of signing him, compared to before the tagging deadline?

“I think it just sets up a more amicable negotiation, because last year — I wouldn’t say it was contentious, but as a player you always want to go out and see your true value, and we restricted that. So this year we said, ‘For the betterment of the Buffalo Bills, and to show you more or less good faith, we’re not going to use that option to restrict you from hitting the market. Let’s try to go full bore, with both of us focused on trying to get a deal done.’”

 

Do you have talks scheduled, or are they underway already?

“We have the lines of communication open. We’ll see what transpires from that.”

 

BILLSAre you hopeful you can sign him by next Tuesday?

“Hopeful, absolutely. And I look at it this way, because a lot of fans are going to look at it this way: you have this asset, and you’re letting it go for nothing. In this day and age, with the salary cap and the way everything is structured, you’re going to have that happen a lot of times, because if you didn’t there wouldn’t be free agency … He has a value (to us), and they have a value of what his camp thinks he’s worth, and we’re trying to meet in the middle and make it comfortable for both sides. Do you hate to lose him for nothing? Yes. But the thing that helps us — and it’s still a possibility to get him — but if we happen to lose him, it doesn’t create a void because of DaNorris Searcy, who played for him when he was out the first couple of games. And we drafted two guys last  year — Duke Williams and Johnathan Meeks — that have got some playing time on special teams, and a couple of plays here and there. So it’s not a glaring need that means we’re going to have to go out and fill — IF the worst-case scenario happens.

 

There was a report on the weekend that the Bills made Jairus a specific offer. (John Wawrow of AP said the Bills offered Byrd a multi-year deal worth $30 million over the first three years.) Can you confirm that he has an offer in hand right now that he could sign this minute, if he so chose?

“Yes. There’s a significant offer in his camp’s hands right now.”

 

Is the (five-year, $41.3-million) contract that safety Dashon Goldson signed with the Bucs last year setting the bar in any way in talks with Jairus, from either the Bills’ or his perspective?

“No, it had nothing to do with our negotiations. I mean, obviously you’re going to be aware of what’s happening around you. But we set our value and go from there.”

 

One thing you said on WGR radio this morning is you’re going to be aggressive in free agency, which kind of surprised me. What did you mean by that?
“Aggressive means we have a plan, and we are going to try to execute that plan as quickly as possible. Now, some people may look at what we plan to do as not aggressive, but we think it’s aggressive … We’re not going to sit back and let things come to us. We’ve got some guys targeted.”

 

First tier? Second-tier?

“It depends on your definition.”

 

By the traditional definitions?
“We want to (use) the same model as last year — guys we think we get very good value for. They may not be star players but they end up producing for us and giving us value and return on our dollar.”

 

And fill specific needs?
“Right. Correct.”

 

Is that your philosophy on free agency, compared to the draft? Meaning in the draft you take the best player, and in free agency you go after specific needs?
“That’s a great blueprint. It opens the board up on draft day if you can fill some specific needs in free agency, and then you can go after the best player and not push a guy up at a specific position where you have a need. Then you overdraft him, and that’s where the mistakes come in. So the blueprint of a nice, thought-out process of how you build a team is that scenario.”

 

Regarding the Kevin Kolb situation, if you don’t get the medical evaluation back by next Tuesday, what do you do?

“It’s a tricky situation, just because of the concussion and that issue that’s at the forefront of the league today. We’re going to be very careful how we handle this, and the foremost consideration in the whole equation is him being healthy. That’s the No. 1 priority is getting him healthy and right. All the semantics, it’s tricky. We’re going to have to sit down, hunker down and figure this out. We’ll be in communication with his camp, with the league office, with the medical staff — so there are some moving parts here we’re going to have to try to coordinate, then make the best decision for him. And he’s got to make the best decision for him and his family, and the second consideration is the Buffalo Bills. But it’s a tricky situation. We’ll try to manage it as best as possible.”

 

Regarding EJ Manuel, I know there was a lot of talk going back to late last season about how you EJ is too injury prone, and you need to draft another quarterback up high in this draft. Did you give any consideration to doing that, even if it meant going into another season with a rookie presumably backing up EJ?

“Well look at it this way. People are happy with Matthew Stafford, and he missed (most of) his first two years. We have supreme and the utmost confidence in EJ. We thought two of the injuries — the one in preseason and especially the last one — were freak. Now the one in Cleveland, he learned from that. Get out of bounds. That was a legitimate injury. So we have no concerns, and we are wholeheartedly behind him — as well as the rest of the quarterbacks on our roster. Thad Lewis came in and took us to a 2-3 record. You hope your backup can at least play .500, so he got us to around there. And even Jeff Tuel, an undrafted free agent, came in against Kansas City and threw for 400-some yards against the Chiefs, which at the time was the No. 1-rated defence. Now, he didn’t win the game but he showed us something. Then we have Dennis Dixon, who was on our practice squad. So we’re excited about the quarterbacks we have on our roster. Are they inexperienced? Yes. But we think they showed us enough. We’re comfortable where we are.”

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