As recently as a couple days ago, it appeared the top two potential free-agent safeties would never get a chance to test the market.
But things have changed.
The Bills and Browns opted not to tag safeties Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward, respectively. Both players can continue to work on negotiating long-term deals with their teams. But neither will be hand-cuffed. In other words, if they want to test the market, they will be allowed to do so.
Byrd is a classic deep-middle safety who is one of the best in the league at making plays on the ball. He patrols the area of the field in between the numbers and is a true ball-hawk. We did a full breakdown of his game last month.
Byrd is 27 and a three-time Pro Bowler. He played his college ball at Oregon, and for two seasons, Chip Kelly was the offensive coordinator on those Ducks teams. Byrd had plantar fasciitis in both of his feet last season and missed five games.
There are not many safeties in the league capable of doing what Byrd can do. He figures to command a big paycheck on the open market.
Ward, meanwhile, is a different type of player. He is one of the best safeties in the league against the run, consistently making plays near the line of scrimmage. Click here for our full breakdown of his game. Ward isn’t the centerfield-type safety that Byrd is, but he is probably underrated in coverage.
The 27-year-old was a Pro Bowler last season and played one year at Oregon under (head coach) Kelly.
It’s no secret that the Eagles need to upgrade at safety. Either player would instantly become the team’s best safety since Brian Dawkins. The question will come down to what the Eagles think each player is worth.
Even with last week’s re-signings, the Birds still have about $21.4M in cap space, per EaglesCap.com.
ORAKPO, WORILDS GET TAGGED
The Redskins used the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo, meaning he’s not going anywhere.
The Steelers, meanwhile, used the transition tag on outside linebacker Jason Worilds. That means he’ll get paid $9.754 million for one season, but other teams can still try to sign Worilds to a more lucrative deal. Pittsburgh, however, gets the opportunity to match any competing offer.
Bottom line: Monday’s news means the safety market gets a boost and the outside linebacker market takes a dip.
The Eagles can start negotiating with free agents on March 8, and signings can become official at 4 p.m. on March 11.