One Pro Bowl safety for another?
In essence, that may happen as the confluence of several forces may have Ward leaving the Cleveland Browns as a free agent and Byrd becoming a free agent and joining the Browns.
Two of those three events are well on track to happening. The Browns have not re-signed Ward, nor have the Bills re-signed Byrd. Both could be free agents. There appeared to be a time when the Browns would place the franchise tag on Ward, but that was before Mike Pettine was hired as coach, which makes any of his ex-players in Buffalo an option.
“I had a great time with him in Buffalo,” Pettine said of Byrd. “He’s an outstanding player.”
In the same interview, Pettine also talked of D'Qwell Jackson as if he were Dick Butkus, then the Browns released Jackson. So what a coach says in the offseason can’t be taken as gospel. But there is a relationship between Pettine and Byrd.
Pettine coached Byrd last season, and though the two had a rocky beginning they came to like each other. Logic says that Byrd would want to join Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Brien in Cleveland -- but logic discounts the fact there are 30 other teams in the league, many of whom also might want a Pro Bowl safety.
Would Byrd prefer a losing environment and a new coach he’s familiar with in Cleveland to, say, Philadelphia, which went to the playoffs with Chip Kelly in his first season as coach? Money usually talks in those cases, and the Browns have in excess of $50 million in salary-cap room.
Byrd and the Bills have talked, but no long-term deal has been completed. Reports from Buffalo indicate the team is not going to use the franchise tag on Byrd for the second year in a row.
It’s unclear how serious the talks have been between the Browns and Ward. Pettine said both Ward and center Alex Mack helped the Browns win, though the Browns didn’t win very often.
A new coach usually likes one or two or four or five of his guys. Byrd is a very good safety with 22 career interceptions, a guy who turns the ball over to the offense. Ward is more of a physical safety; his coverage has improved, but it’s not his strength. The pairing of Byrd and Tashaun Gipson seem to fit Pettine’s side-of-the-field approach with his safeties.
"I think that’s key to our success,” Pettine said, speaking of his defensive approach and not specifically of any player. “Having guys who have the interchangeable skill set to do both. Teams can force safeties to change jobs anyway because of some of the things they can do pre-snap. So we want guys who can do both.''
At 28, Byrd has good years ahead, and he’s already been to three Pro Bowls. Adding him would make sense, but many teams are left waiting in free agency.
It’s all part of the never-ending cycle of change with the Cleveland Browns. They commit four years to Ward, who grows into a Pro Bowl player. Then because of a new coach, they let their own Pro Bowl player go in hopes of signing another.
It hasn’t happened yet.
But it could, and it would fit the pattern.