By JOHN WAWROW The Associated Press
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — PITTSFORD — The Buffalo Bills are preparing to open training camp minus Jairus Byrd. And with contract talks at a stalemate, the team has no indication when the two-time Pro Bowl safety plans to report.
“Hopefully soon,” general manager Doug Whaley said Saturday, a day before the Bills were set to hold their first practice in suburban Rochester. Whaley acknowledged that’s essentially a guess because Byrd and his agent, Eugene Parker, haven’t informed the Bills of their intentions.
“They haven’t said anything,” Whaley said.
Talks remain at a standstill, leaving Byrd a member of Buffalo’s roster in name only.
The Bills prevented Byrd from testing free agency by retaining his rights in March. That’s when they designated him their franchise player by offering him a one-year, $6.9 million contract.
Very little has happened since.
Byrd has yet to sign the one-year contract, and the two sides failed to negotiate a long-term contract extension by a July 15 deadline. Under NFL rules, the Bills are now limited to reaching a one-year deal with Byrd.
He missed all of the team’s spring minicamps and is not required to attend training camp because he’s unsigned.
Parker declined to comment on the status of negotiations or Byrd’s plans in an email to The Associated Press.
Whaley said “the lines of communication are open,” but declined to say when the two sides last spoke. He added that he respects Byrd as a player and the position he’s taken in refusing to accept the offer.
“I think it’s a normal negotiation process. We’ve worked hard. They’ve worked hard. And it’s just part of the business,” Whaley said. “Hopefully, he comes in. And when he does, we’ll welcome him with open arms.”
The Bills selected Byrd in the second round of the 2009 draft out of Oregon. He enjoyed a breakout season as a rookie, when he earned a Pro Bowl selection after finishing tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions — a rookie franchise record. Byrd also set a team record that season by having an interception in five consecutive games.
Last season, Byrd was the team’s most consistent defender and was added to the Pro Bowl roster as an injury replacement. Byrd led Buffalo with five interceptions and four forced fumbles, and finished fourth with 76 tackles. Overall, his 18 career interceptions are tied for third most among NFL players since 2009.
His absence leaves a hole in the Bills defensive plans under new coordinator Mike Pettine.
“That remains to be seen,” Whaley said, referring to how much the defense might miss Byrd. “I think there’s a lot of guys on the roster now that are going to step up to fill that role until he gets back. And then we’ll go from there when he gets in. So it’s hard for me to predict that.”
Converted cornerback Aaron Williams spent much of the spring filling Byrd’s starting spot at free safety.
Byrd is also behind in learning Pettine’s new defense, which emphasizes player versatility and a complex approach in pressuring quarterbacks from various positions. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore said he and several teammates have been in contact with Byrd and provided him details of the defense.
Byrd will still have some catching up to do should he elect to report.
Byrd has not commented publicly on his contract status this offseason, and has been careful not to divulge too much in notes posted on his Twitter account.
On Monday, Byrd posted a note saying: “It’ll be worth it in the end.”
Two weeks ago, Byrd posted a picture of him and mentor Aeneas Williams, the former star NFL defensive back. The caption under the photo said it was taken after a workout.
In other news, the Bills released tight end Mickey Shuler and offensive lineman Chris Scott.
The Bills claimed Shuler off waivers in May after he was released by the Oakland Raiders. He had also split time with Minnesota, Miami and Cincinnati since being selected by the Vikings in the seventh round of the 2010 draft.
The Bills signed Scott off of Tennessee’s practice squad in December. He was initially selected by Pittsburgh in the fifth round of the 2010 draft.
Whaley has no immediate intention to fill the spots on his roster. He said the openings leave room to add players without having to make cuts.