Why Saints asked Byrd out on 'date'

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton had a funny analogy when describing his team's free-agency courtship of safety Jairus Byrd.

"The risk is just like asking him out on a date," Payton said Wednesday at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla. "He might say no, and you have to be comfortable in trying to go after someone and approaching. ...

"In the case of Jairus, it was one of those where from afar, you just keep waiting. 'Alright, who else is waiting? Who else is going to visit with him first?' Or, 'His plane has landed? OK, perfect.' And you celebrate that process when all of a sudden there's a decision that's been made."

The Saints wooed Byrd with a six-year, $54 million contract -- the richest ever for a safety in the NFL. As for why they were so determined to land the three-time Pro Bowl safety, Payton said it was more about his specific skill set than targeting the safety position in general.

Payton said Byrd's ball skills and his ability to generate turnovers (22 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles in five years) are what made him so appealing.

"Every season you guys hear us say, 'Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.' So you really begin to value those guys," Payton said. "The ball finds them. [Byrd] is one of those players that seems to be around the ball a lot."

Asked about the evolution of the safety position in the NFL, Payton said it's clear that more money is being invested now -- as opposed to the money that used to go to running backs, for example.

"I'd say the importance of good secondary play has grown. The amount of passes and things they're defending now with the rules changes, it's kind of a ball up here and having ball skills," Payton said. "Offenses play close attention to ball skills on the other side of the ball and really attack those players that don't have it."

Payton of all people should know that -- since he's one of the NFL's most aggressive attackers on offense.

The Saints have now invested in two standout safeties over the past two years, using their first-round draft pick last year on Kenny Vaccaro, who had a stellar rookie season.

One of Vaccaro's great strengths last year was his versatility. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan moved him all over the field -- in slot coverage, in deep coverage, sometimes as a pseudo-linebacker. But that was partly due to injuries. And now that Byrd is entrenched as the Saints' free safety/center fielder, Payton said Vaccaro's role should be even more defined going forward.

"As for Jairus and Kenny, I think there's a clear vision of how we want you use them, and that's important," Payton said. "Kenny played in a lot of spots last year. I think he'll play in less of those spots this year. ... That vision this year will be a little more clearer."