After spending much of the past year trying to negotiate a long-term contract, Whaley preferred risking the loss of Byrd in free agency rather than applying the one-year tag on the three-time Pro Bowler for a second consecutive season.
"We didn't think it was the best option for the team, for us to get better," Whaley said shortly after the NFL's deadline for teams to designate franchise players passed Monday afternoon. "The best thing for the Buffalo Bills was to try to get him signed to a long-term deal."
Whaley didn't rule out the possibility of the sides negotiating a deal before the start of the NFL's free-agency period on March 11.
"As they say in the movies, there's always a chance," he said.
Whaley, however, did call it a "fair assessment" that Byrd is more interested in testing the market to determine his worth after being prevented from doing so last year.
Negotiations reached a standstill last weekend after the Bills made Byrd what they regarded as a lucrative multiyear offer.
Without revealing the full value and length of the proposal, people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press that Byrd would have been paid about $30 million over the first three seasons of the contract. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because neither side is publicly discussing the negotiations.
Byrd played under a $6.9 million franchise tag last year. The price for Buffalo to apply the designation again would be about $8.4 million this season.
The one-year price tag might not have scared the Bills from using it one more time. A bigger deterrent was paying that much money for a disgruntled player who missed nearly the entire offseason last year before accepting his contract a day before the Bills broke training camp in late August.
"I wouldn't say those words," Whaley said, when asked if he was frustrated by a failure to reach a deal. "I would say, 'Hey, we worked hard. It's still not over yet.' Then, when it's over, I'll let the feelings seep into the equation."
Byrd, selected in the second round of the 2009 draft out of Oregon, will have an opportunity to be among the top defensive backs available in free agency.
He enjoyed a breakout season as a rookie, when he tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions — a rookie franchise record.
Last year, Byrd earned his third Pro Bowl selection. He finished tied for the team lead with four interceptions, and added a sack and a forced fumble despite missing the first five games of the season because of plantar fasciitis in both feet.
Byrd has 22 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles in 73 career games.
The Bills could lose their top defensive back on a unit that showed considerable improvement last season. Though Buffalo struggled against the run, the defense finished 10th in the NFL in yards allowed — its best ranking since a second-place finish in 2004. The Bills also finished second in the league with a franchise-record 57 sacks.
The defense is in transition this offseason with Jim Schwartz taking over as coordinator. He replaced Mike Pettine, who left the Bills after one year to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns could be a potential landing spot for Byrd. They have plenty of space under the salary cap, and Byrd enjoyed playing under Pettine.
The Bills made a roster move Monday by releasing linebacker Willie Jefferson, who was signed to a reserve/future contract in January.
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