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John DeShazier: Jairus Byrd signing is a game-changing move for New Orleans Saints

Posted Mar 12, 2014

Mickey Loomis, Saints work their magic again

The first day of NFL free agency for the New Orleans Saints proved to be a bountiful, shocking, set-the-NFL-abuzz one.

It was, in essence, a game-changing pick six.

The Saints intercepted any thoughts that they wouldn’t be major players in free agency and turned in one of the biggest scores of the day Tuesday, signing the most coveted safety on the market, three-time All-Pro and unrestricted free agent Jairus Byrd, to a six-year contract.

Byrd (5 feet 10, 203 pounds) upgrades the position and the league’s second-ranked pass defense as a five-year veteran who will enter the 2014 season with 22 career interceptions, 33 passes defensed, 11 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.

That compliment is no slight to Malcolm Jenkins, who spent his first five seasons with the Saints before signing with Philadelphia on Tuesday as an unrestricted free agent. Jenkins’ contributions won’t be understated here; he was solid on the field and even more impressive off of it, via his willingness to pour into the community.

But the bottom line in a bottom-line business is that Byrd arguably is the top safety in the league, a three-time Pro Bowl player who had stood out in Buffalo since being drafted in the second round (No. 42 overall) in 2009.

There’s a reason that he’s the second-biggest unrestricted free agent signee in franchise history, behind quarterback Drew Brees, a reason why the Saints made sure that his free agency tour ended in New Orleans, inside the team’s Airline Drive facility in Metairie.

Byrd intercepted nine passes as a rookie, including two picks in three consecutive games, tying Dave Baker’s NFL record for consecutive games with two or more interceptions, while starting 11 of 14 games.

Last season, after missing the first five games with a foot injury, he intercepted four passes, forced a fumble and had six passes defensed while helping Buffalo rank 10th in the NFL in total defense and fourth against the pass (204.4 yards per game).

He had at least three interceptions in four seasons, at least six passes defensed in four seasons and at least three forced fumbles in three seasons. Those are nose-for-the-ball numbers, and his instincts should aid a defense that will seek to create more turnovers in 2014.

Credit for the snaring of Byrd largely can be attributed to the culture of the organization (New Orleans has become an attractive free agent destination) and the salary-cap creativity of General Manager Mickey Loomis and Director of Football Administration Khai Harley, who continue to prove that “salary cap constraints” don’t mean that the franchise can’t be a player on the free agent market.

Last year, under similar salary cap constraints as this season – if not more stringent constraints – the Saints managed to sign cornerback Keenan Lewis, an unrestricted free agent, to a five-year contract.

Loomis, in fact, intimated in a Monday interview that while outsiders may be a tad concerned about the team’s positioning under the salary cap and its offseason moves, that the franchise has a thorough plan and that all the moves that have occurred this offseason have not been knee-jerk responses. A thorough evaluation process has led to several difficult, emotional decisions that have been made.

That plan, on Tuesday, led to the signing of the top free agent safety on the market.

“I think there are great things to come here in New Orleans and I’m excited to join this team,” Byrd said. “We played against the Saints this year (a 35-17 Saints victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome) and I saw their style of play and was impressed by it.

“I think I will fit well in the scheme. This is a great opportunity to join a championship organization. I look forward to meeting my new teammates and being part of a great Saints defense.”

For New Orleans, it was nothing less than a pick six, scoring with the signing of a player few might have imagined the franchise could get its hands on.

jairus byrd

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