Jairus Byrd won’t kid himself about why it is the Saints pursued a massive contract with him hours into NFL free agency on Tuesday.
The three-time Pro Bowl safety is fully aware that New Orleans hopes he can turn around the paucity of turnovers that was perhaps the one flaw on a defense that finished the 2013 season ranked No. 4, he said during his first remarks to the local media on Wednesday.
“That’s what I pride myself being able to do is create turnovers,” said Byrd, who had 22 interceptions, forced 11 fumbles and recovered five loose balls in his first five NFL seasons, all with Buffalo. “Force fumbles or whatever it may be — that’s something I’m looking forward to coming in and doing.”
New Orleans no doubt is betting Byrd will be just what coordinator Rob Ryan’s defense needs after finishing fourth from last in the NFL with 19 takeaways last season.
Playing under a one-year franchise tag, Byrd sat out the initial portion of 2013 with a hurt foot but still had four interceptions, six pass breakups, 48 tackles (37 solo) and one sack in 11 games for a Bills team that finished 6-10. He would’ve been tied for the lead in interceptions had he been suiting up for New Orleans.
Unsurprisingly, the 5-foot-10, 203-pound Byrd was considered one of the most coveted free-agent safeties when the signing period began Tuesday. He visited the Saints hours later and agreed to terms on a six-year deal that’s reportedly worth $54 million.
Salary cap expert Joel Corry on Wednesday reported that Byrd’s contract carries $26.3 million in guarantees. His 2014 cap number is $3.5 million.
Byrd on Wednesday said a number of things attracted him to New Orleans, aside from the enormous contract. There’s the winning culture under Sean Payton, who coached the Saints to a Super Bowl in 2009 and to the playoffs each year he’s been on the sidelines since then.
He mentioned the Saints’ potent offense, which is capable of putting up a big lead in any given outing. Big leads, of course, give defenders an opportunity to scour for turnovers.
Another reason is playing alongside second-year safety Kenny Vaccaro, who was one of the most impressive rookies in 2013. Byrd watched Vaccaro rack up two tackles behind the line of scrimmage as well as a pass break-up in a 35-17 Bills loss at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Oct. 27.
“When he played against us, I know he made a lot of plays,” Byrd said. “I’ve heard that he’s a really good player. ... It’ll be a really exciting thing to be back there with him.”
But he was also exposed to something else in that contest that convinced him to leave his set-up in Buffalo and join the Black and Gold: the deafening atmosphere of the Superdome as well as the 70,000+ fans that pack it on game days.
“It was electric,” said Byrd, whom Buffalo selected out of Oregon in the second round of the 2009 draft. “They’re really behind their team. The Dome was rocking when I was here.”
He added, “They feed off that, and I think that’s really big. Any time you’re playing football on defense you always want to have that noise.”