WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan already proved how much he loves to feature safeties in his versatile defense last year. The Saints spent about 75 percent of their snaps in nickel defense -- almost always using three safeties on the field at once.
Now Ryan has even more ammo to work with after the Saints added three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd in free agency to pair with returning young players Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush.
When asked how much input he had in the Saints signing Byrd to a six-year, $54 million contract, Ryan said, “Uh, that is absolutely zero. But I was happy. That one came from much higher up than me, but I was ecstatic when I heard the news.”
The Saints were most attracted by Byrd’s ball skills and his ability to force turnovers. His 22 interceptions rank second in the NFL over the past five seasons.
“I think he’s got unique ball skills. If that ball hits his hands, he is going to catch it,” Ryan said. “But also with that, he is very smart. He can put himself into plays.”
I asked Ryan if Byrd “freelances” from time to time to wind up with so many picks.
“I think that one thing with turnovers in the National Football League, these are the best quarterbacks in the world. You have to play your technique. You have to be disciplined,” Ryan said. “But there comes a time and point where every turnover is made where a guy has to just go make it. And he’s been great all through his career. He’s played corner in college. I mean, he just has unique ball skills. And so did his father (longtime former NFL standout Gill Byrd).”
Ryan has always gushed with praise for second-year Saints safety Vaccaro as well. Last season, Ryan said he believed the Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas was the best free safety in the NFL, but Vaccaro was the best "overall safety” because of his versatility.
And Ryan also raved Tuesday about the hard-hitting Bush, who has played a big role both on defense and special-teams coverage for the past two seasons.
“Oh, he’s very important. He’s an excellent football player,” Ryan said of Bush, who was re-signed by the Saints as a restricted free agent after they matched a two-year, $4.5 million contract Bush signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
“The Falcons did us a favor by giving him such a low offer,” Ryan said. “That’s great. We got him for two years. Thanks.”