Written by Sal Maiorana Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
PITTSFORD, N.Y.-As expected, there were no Jairus Byrd sightings Friday at St. John Fisher College as the Buffalo Bills began checking into training camp.
And here's a newsflash: You can probably forget about doing any Byrd-watching for the foreseeable future because there's a very good chance the fifth-year free safety won't even do a fly-by in Pittsford this summer.
Byrd has refused to sign his one-year franchise tag tender, the only one of the eight players in the NFL who were tagged to take this stance.
He skipped all of the OTA workouts in the spring, and now with things getting amped up as training camp practices begin Sunday, Byrd will be missing the most valuable portion of season prep, especially with new coaches teaching a new scheme.
"Camp starts Sunday and we have to go out there and run with what we've got," defensive end Mario Williams said after moving his belongings into his dorm room at Fisher.
Williams and several other Bills professed the standard company line Friday regarding Byrd's situation: Business is business and it will take care of itself. That's true, but Byrd's absence will eventually hurt the Bills because he's one of their best players, and this is not a team that can afford to play without its best players.
"He's a great player and we want him back as soon as possible," said Williams. "Hopefully things work out, but that's on the legal end of the team, something we can't control amongst players."
New coach Doug Marrone did not speak with reporters Friday but is scheduled to do so Saturday and he will likely have to answer questions regarding Byrd. However, his comment will almost certainly be that Byrd's not here, so the Bills have to move on with the guys who are.
Because Byrd's agent, Eugene Parker, and the Bills' front office could not agree on a long-term contract by July 15, one cannot be negotiated until after the season ends. Byrd would earn $6.91 million if he signs the tender, but by missing that July 15 deadline, now he has no multiple-year security or bonus money in the bank.
Technically, Byrd is not a holdout because he does not have a contract, thus, he won't be fined for missing camp time. If his absence extends to the regular season, then he will lose game checks, which would be substantially greater than paying camp fines.
There is a school of thought that the sticking point in what seems to have become a cantankerous situation is the team's refusal to include a clause in Byrd's one-year deal for 2013 that would prevent them from using the franchise tag on him in 2014. If negotiations go nowhere next year, the Bills will have the franchise tag at their disposal again.
Byrd clearly wanted to test unrestricted free agency because he would almost certainly find a suitor who would pay him more than the Bills in an open market. Case in point: Offensive guard Andy Levitre, who signed an eye-popping $46.8 million contract with Tennessee in March, a deal he never would have received in Buffalo.
If and when Byrd joins the team, he will have a lot of catching up to do. Again, everything is new at One Bills Drive and Mike Pettine's defense is in no way similar to Dave Wannstedt's. However, Williams doesn't think that's too much of a worry because he believes Byrd can get up to speed quickly.
"It'll be a challenge, but at the same time he's a smart player and as long as he knows the terminology, that's the biggest thing, being able to communicate with everything that's going in," said Williams.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore said he and several other players have been in contact with Byrd and have been trying to give him some help from afar.
"I've tried to give him a little stuff so he comes back not knowing anything," said Gilmore. "I think he'll be ready to go when he comes back. I'm just looking forward to him coming back to the defense and us winning games."