Saints lose Jenkins to Eagles, but agree to terms with free agent safety Byrd

The Saints on Tuesday lost their last remaining defensive player from the team that won New Orleans’ lone Super Bowl title. But they wasted no time in replacing him by successfully courting one of the best free agents at safety Malcolm Jenkins’ position on the open market.

Philadelphia announced that it inked Jenkins to a three-year deal about an hour after the free agency signing period began. A little more than four hours later, the Saints said they had met and agreed to terms on a six-year contract with free-agent safety Jairus Byrd, who was most recently with Buffalo.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported both Jenkins’ deal with the Eagles and the numbers for Byrd’s eye-popping contract, which he said is worth $54 million, $28 million of which is guaranteed. Citing an unnamed source, Schefter said Jenkins’ deal was for three years and was worth $16.25 million. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane then wrote it was for $16.5 million with $8.5 million guaranteed.

Nonetheless, it was Byrd’s agreement with the cap-strapped Saints that arguably made the biggest splash on the first day of free agency. New Orleans didn’t disclose what the terms of the agreement were.

First, regarding Jenkins: Philadelphia had for a while been pegged as a possible landing spot for him. According to the Eagles’ official Twitter account, general manager Howie Roseman said his organization had its eyes on Jenkins for “quite a while.” Coach Chip Kelly added that he admired Jenkins’ “versatility” and called him “a sharp kid” who is “ultra competitive,” the Eagles said.

Jenkins, New Orleans’ first-round draft pick in 2009, was a defensive captain last season and ranked among the leaders in tackles, pass breakups and interceptions for a team that ranked second against the pass. He also had 2.5 sacks and four tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year and in his rookie season helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV.

The former Saint logged onto his Twitter shortly after word broke that he was leaving New Orleans. He expressed excitement about joining Philadelphia and said he was thankful for his tenure in black and gold.

“Very excited about being a part of the @Eagles organization!” he wrote on Twitter. “I loved every minute I spent in New Orleans but all good things come to an end.

“Who Dat fans I hope I continue to have your love and support as we part ways! Thank you for everything!”

Jenkins was one of eight players left from the Saints’ Super Bowl team and the last defender from that squad, but his departure wasn’t a complete surprise. When Tuesday began, New Orleans was estimated to be fewer than $3 million under the 2014 salary cap. That was the third lowest cap space figure in the NFL, and it didn’t leave the Saints in a position to compete with an offer like the one the Eagles assembled.

Yet many were fully aware that the Saints would be willing to restructure contracts on the books as necessary to create enough cap space to lure Byrd to New Orleans. Lure Byrd they did, and now the Saints will focus on creating the cap space.

The news that Byrd was going to visit New Orleans surfaced almost immediately after word of Jenkins’ departure. Byrd, who was a second-round draft pick out of Oregon for Buffalo in 2009, is a three-time Pro Bowl pick. He missed some time last year 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.

Byrd joins a group of safeties that include 2013 first-round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush. Both played well last year as the Saints reached the divisional round of the NFC playoffs — coincidentally, in the process, they defeated Jenkins’ new team in the wildcard stage.

But the addition of Byrd, a bona fide ball hawk, is certainly a welcome one for a team that was fourth from last in the NFL in 2013 with 19 takeaways. In fact, Byrd’s four interceptions would’ve put him in a tie for the team lead with star cornerback Keenan Lewis.

In a statement from the Saints, Byrd said, “I first want to thank the Buffalo Bills organization and the great fans of Buffalo for their support during my time there. I think there are great things to come here in New Orleans and I’m excited to join this team.”

Byrd — who played under a franchise tag in 2013 — said he was impressed by the Saints’ style of play under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan when New Orleans defeated Buffalo 35-17 in a Week 8 clash at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“I think I will fit well in the scheme,” Byrd said. “This is a great opportunity to join a championship organization. I look forward to meeting my new teammates and being part of a great Saints defense.”

Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement he hoped his team would get the chance to pursue Byrd, who tallied 22 interceptions in his five years with Buffalo.

“We think that his playmaking abilities will be an excellent fit with what we are trying to accomplish with our defense and in our secondary,” the GM remarked.