S Kevin Byard Balking At Titans’ Pay-Cut Request

Kevin Byard has been one of the NFL’s better safeties over the past several seasons, but the Titans have approached the All-Pro about taking a pay cut. This has not gone over well with Byard, as could be expected.

A seven-year starter in Tennessee, Byard has declined the organization’s request, Cameron Wolfe of NFL.com tweets. He does not believe his play warrants a pay reduction, ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter adds (via Twitter). The sides have reached a crossroads on this matter, even though Byard has said he wants to finish his career in Tennessee.

Although the Titans have cut several veterans to start Ran Carthon‘s GM tenure, Byard has never missed a game as a pro and was a first-team All-Pro as recently as 2021. Pro Football Focus graded Byard as a top-10 safety in 2022. Byard is going into his age-30 season and tied to a $13.6MM base salary. Byard’s resume includes five seasons with at least four interceptions — including an eight-INT 2017, which preceded an unusual exchange in which then-NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders appeared unaware of the emerging safety’s NFL employment — and he has notched nine thefts over the past two years.

The Titans gave Byard a five-year extension back in 2019, ahead of his fourth season. The safety market has changed a bit since the former third-round pick agreed to that $14.1MM-per-year deal. At the time (July 2019), the contract made Byard the league’s highest-paid safety. But eight safeties now sit in front of the Middle Tennessee State alum. Two years remain on Byard’s extension.

Jon Robinson selected Byard during his first draft as GM, choosing the talented safety — who was not invited to the 2016 Combine — a round after taking Derrick Henry. That turned out to be a rather good day for the since-fired front office boss. Byard has joined Henry in becoming a two-time All-Pro. Given Byard’s performance level and durability, it would not have been surprising to see him angle for a raise — now that Derwin James has pushed safety money past $19MM per year. Instead, the prospect of Byard playing football with a non-Tennessee-based team for the first time since high school appears on the table.

Free agency this year has not produced a windfall for non-Jessie Bates safeties. Vonn Bell‘s $7.5MM-per-year pact represents the second-most money given to a back-line defender this year. This gap likely helped convince Harrison Smith to accept the Vikings’ pay-cut request. Minnesota chopped Smith’s salary from $14.7MM to $8MM this year. More money would await Byard in free agency, but it would also be interesting to see what teams would be willing to give up in trades. The deal includes a $13.6MM 2024 base salary as well.

Because the Titans have twice restructured his contract, Byard is on Tennessee’s cap sheet at $19.6MM this year. The team has already tacked on two void years to help for cap purposes in the past. This will be an early test for Carthon, whom the Titans hired to replace Robinson in January.

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