The Eagles outlasted the Browns last offseason in the Chip Kelly sweepstakes.
Could they out-jockey Cleveland again this offseason for one of the top defensive standouts on the free-agent market?
Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who will become a free agent March 11, appeared Tuesday morning on ESPN and discussed the potential of joining either team. Browns head coach Mike Pettine was Byrd’s defensive coordinator last year in Buffalo and Kelly coached at Oregon when Byrd played there in college.
“I’m familiar with Coach Kelly, and I know they’re headed in the right direction,” Byrd said of the Eagles. “They made the playoffs last year, so there’s a lot that has to go on. Obviously, they (Kelly and Pettine) are two great coaches and they look forward to doing big things this year.”
And Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowl safety, looks forward to cashing in big on his first foray in free agency. Teams can start to negotiate with agents on March 8. Players can sign three days later.
Byrd, a second-round pick in 2009, has 22 interceptions in his five years, including nine his rookie year, the most of any NFL safety since 2009 and second-most to Asante Samuel among all defensive backs. His 409 return yards are second-most behind Ed Reed.
Last year, he played under the one-year, $6.9 million franchise tag. The Bills elected not to tag him for a second straight year and couldn’t reach a long-term deal to prevent him from reaching the marketplace.
The Eagles badly need an upgrade (or two) at safety, but they’ve spent around $130 million in the past week on in-house extensions. All offseason, general manager Howie Roseman has said the Eagles aren’t likely to engage in a bidding war for a marquee free agent.
“It’s almost like the draft, where you don’t want to force anything,” Roseman said last week. “We look at it as just try to grade players as they are, not do it because we need a particular position. We’re going to go out and try to do things that make sense for our football team.”
Byrd missed the first five games of 2013 with a foot injury. He still picked off four passes and forced a fumble to make his second straight Pro Bowl.
He said he’s “keeping all options open” in free agency and didn’t slam the door shut on returning to Buffalo.
“It’ll be fun, exciting, it’s something new, so it is kind of the unknown,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully it will be a good experience.”