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Russ Brandon says Bills will use franchise tag only if forced

By Tim Graham

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Buffalo Bills will use their franchise tag as a last resort.

Without mentioning safety Jairus Byrd by name, Bills President Russ Brandon told a group of reporters at the NFL scouting combine he'd rather sign players to multiyear contracts than use the franchise tag.

"It's an asset that's available to you if needed," Brandon said. "Obviously, there's a variety of reasons that you don't want to use it. You prefer not to from a cap-management standpoint, but we'll see how that goes.

"It's a tool that's there as collectively bargained, but from our standpoint, we're focused on trying to get long-term deals done."

Teams have until March 4 to place the franchise tag on one unrestricted free agent to retain his rights. The franchise tag means the player will receive a guaranteed one-year salary at the average of the NFL's top five highest-paid players in that position group.

Byrd, coming off his second Pro Bowl season, is the Bills' obvious candidate. Safeties are relatively inexpensive, projected to be about $6.8 million (the numbers for each position haven't been finalized yet).

Left guard Andy Levitre is the Bills' other top free agent, but franchise tags for offensive lineman are expensive because they also include wealthy left tackles. The O-line projection is about $9.7 million.

Brandon said he and vice president of football operations Jim Overdorf will meet with agents for all of the Bills' free agents over the next few days in Indianapolis. The agents also convene at the scouting combine for meetings, to interact with their clients and to work on contracts.

"It's like any negotiation," Brandon said. "It's an opportunity to sit down face-to-face with many people in the agent community that you have relationships with. You can sit down and talk about the parameters and the opportunities for our guys that are coming up.

"I know people are focused on Byrd and Levitre, but we have a pretty good pool of free agents that will be coming out on March 12."

Contracts generally don't get signed and filed in Indianapolis, but Brandon said, "You can have a pretty damn good framework coming out of here if both parties are in a position to strike a deal. ... It'll go fast and furious for the next few days."


2013 NFL scouting combine | Andy Levitre | Jairus Byrd | Russ Brandon
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |