Three minutes into overtime, during last year’s Week 6 matchup against the Buffalo Bills, the Arizona Cardinals lined up four wide. Despite a very solid day of racking up 182 rushing yards, the Cardinals now faced 3rd and 10, and were languishing just inside their own 20. Against an obvious passing situation, the Bills lined up in the nickel with Jairus Byrd roving the weak side, 10 yards off the line. At the snap, Byrd shuffled a few steps back never once disengaging from Skelton’s eyes. As Skelton cocked to throw, Byrd began cheating towards the middle of the field in anticipation of what was clearly (to Byrd) becoming the QB’s target. Just as TE Housler broke off his route, Skelton fired a shot down the middle. Reading him the entire play, Byrd jumped the pass for an easy catch and run 13 yards back deep into Cardinal territory. The interception, Byrd’s second of the game, set up the game winning field goal.
As dramatized by his success against the Cardinals, Jairus Byrd is easily regarded as a shutdown cover safety. Most NFL coordinators easily draw comparisons to all-world star Ed Reed. And why not? Last year, Byrd was second in the league in interceptions by safeties, besting Reed by one, without surrendering a single touchdown. Byrd is such a ball-hawk that in his rookie season he eviscerated opposing quarterbacks for an unbelievable 9 interceptions.
This past August Byrd signed a franchise tender with Buffalo guaranteeing him $7MM for the season. So far this year, sidelined by an apparent foot injury, Byrd hasn’t played a single snap. Speculation is gaining momentum that Byrd is playing up his plantar fasciitis to protect himself from a catastrophic injury that could derail his career and the millions in guaranteed money coming his way as a potential free agent.
So why am I writing about Jairus Byrd on TST? Because if possible, the Rams should make a play and trade for him. Byrd is the cure to what ails the Rams’ defense. The absence of Quintin Mikell has exposed a dramatic weakness in the Rams’ secondary that is trickling down through the entire unit. Without a solid cover safety to protect aggressive corner play, our defense has been forced into an off-man approach that is the toast of opposing quarterbacks.
What would a potential trade look like? Well, the Rams have a few pieces of bait that may entice Bills GM Doug Whaley into a deal. Obviously, we have two first round picks in 2014. Giving up either one of those is out of the question. So what are some other options? Two positions where I believe the Rams have so much depth that they don’t know what to do is at running back and wide receiver. Clearly, with CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson holding down the backfield, the Bills have no use for any one of our middling crew of runners. But what about another weapon for young quarterback EJ Manuel? Somehow the Rams went from a frightening lack of wide receivers to a group of 5 guys that would all be starting on other teams around the league.
The odd-man out in this trade scenario is Stedman Bailey. I know he’s a fan favorite, but doesn’t appear to be a favorite of this perplexing coaching staff. So far this year, this 3rd round pick has 0 receptions for 0 yards, and has been targeted exactly one time during a circus-like fake punt.
The value makes sense, a third rounder for an aging, but not old safety. The numbers could be made to work, but would require some serious decisions by our front office. One way to free up cap space would be to restructure the contracts of Finnegan, JL55, Cook, Wells, and/or Langford. Combined with Chris Long (who has already been restructured) and Bradford, these players account for 67% of the Rams’ payroll. Yikes. Thankfully, most of these contracts have built in flexibility that gives the team room to maneuver.
At the end of the day, you’d have to ask yourself if you think this team is better with Stedman Bailey, or Jairus Byrd (plus the headache of contract restructures), who represents yet another high-priced free agent to add to a struggling franchise. Personally, I’m not a fan of the Dan Snyder guide to building an NFL franchise. However, hometown kid Jairus Byrd could immediately bring an All-Pro presence to our very young corps of safeties, which could have a potent impact on the rest of our struggling defense.