Saints aim high; target S Byrd

The New Orleans Saints certainly are not letting their salary cap constraints slow them down in free agency. The Saints have lined up a visit with one of the top free agents on the market -- Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Byrd, 27, is a three-time Pro Bowl selection with 22 interceptions in his five-year career. Last year, he played under the Bills’ franchise tag. But they elected not to franchise him again this year at a rate of $8.4 million.

It’s possible Byrd could be seeking a long-term deal in that price range. Byrd reportedly is seeking at least $9 million per year, according to ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker. But that could be on the high end after two other top safeties, Donte Whitner and T.J. Ward, reportedly agreed to deals Tuesday worth $7 million and $5.5 million per year, respectively.

The Saints don’t have a ton of salary cap space to work with. But they’ll be at least $6 million under the cap after cutting ties with running back Darren Sproles (which still has not officially happened yet). And they could carve out millions more by restructuring some of their current contracts if they so choose.

Signing Byrd would be an extreme example of what I wrote about Tuesday morning -- the way the Saints have remained selectively aggressive in free agency in recent years to keep an eye on the future. They have never allowed themselves to be paralyzed by their salary-cap constraints.

Even though they’ve decided to part ways with a number of longtime veterans this year (including longtime starting safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins), they have continued to add new core players through free agency in recent years. That’s why they’ve remained bona fide Super Bowl contenders for so long.

Byrd (5-10, 203 pounds) is known as a ball-hawking free safety with excellent instincts. He battled plantar fasciitis in his foot last season, and there have always been some concerns about his speed since he entered the league as a second-round draft pick in 2009. But they obviously haven't kept him from making an impact on the field.

He also has 356 career tackles, 11 forced fumbles, three sacks and 33 pass defenses.

Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan values safeties in his defense. He would often feature three of them in a rotation at once last year -- led by breakout rookie Kenny Vaccaro.

And now, the Saints need more safety help since Vaccaro is the only safety remaining on the roster. They also expect part-time starter Rafael Bush back after making a one-year qualifying offer to him as a restricted free agent.

The Saints released Harper last month. And they allowed Jenkins to get away as a free agent when he agreed to a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday (three years, $16.25 million, according to Schefter).

That move wasn’t surprising since the Saints seemed prepared to let Jenkins get away, especially at that price.

Longtime readers of mine know I’ve always been high on Jenkins' potential in New Orleans. He seemed to flash his big-play potential every year with one or two game-changing plays. And he was a smart, hard-working player that was respected by coaches and teammates alike. He was elected as a defensive captain in each of the past two years.

But Jenkins never consistently lived up to his potential in New Orleans. And the Saints obviously have an eye on upgrading.

Jenkins, by the way, is the sixth member of the Saints' Super Bowl roster that the team has parted ways with this offseason. They now have zero defensive players remaining from that 2009 season and only seven total players left on the roster (including free agent offensive tackle Zach Strief and receiver Robert Meachem).