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Bills plan to meet with S Byrd at combine

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo Bills are expected to hold contract talks in a bid to re-sign safety Jairus Byrd within the next week, a person familiar with the status of negotiations told The Associated Press on Monday.

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The person said the two sides are expected to meet at the weeklong NFL combine at Indianapolis, which opens on Wednesday. The person also said there have previously been no formal negotiations between the Bills and Byrd, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next month.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the Bills' policy of not discussing contract talks.

The person added that there has so far been no discussion as to whether the Bills intend to place a franchise tag on Byrd. The two-week window to apply that designation opened on Monday.

Under NFL rules, the Bills would have to commit between a $5.89-million and $6.79-million one-year contract to retain Byrd's rights.

Byrd is a four-year starter, and was selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2009. He was also added to the AFC Pro Bowl roster last month as an injury replacement.

Buffalo's second-round draft pick out of Oregon, Byrd is coming off a solid season in which he led the team with five interceptions and four forced fumbles in 16 games last season.

He had a breakout season as a rookie, when he finished tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions - a rookie franchise record. Byrd also set a team record that season by having an interception in five consecutive games.

Byrd and left guard Andy Levitre are the two most high-profile Bills starters eligible to become free agents this offseason.

Byrd's return is regarded as key to a defense that is once again in transition with new coach Doug Marrone taking over after Chan Gailey was fired following three consecutive losing seasons. Marrone, the former Syracuse coach, has brought in an entirely new staff that includes former New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine taking over the same role in Buffalo.

Byrd was the most consistent player on a high-priced defense which underachieved last year following the free-agent addition of defensive end Mario Williams, who signed a six-year, $100 million contract in March. Buffalo finished ranked 31st in the NFL against the run and 26th in points allowed in contributing to the team's 6-10 finish.

The Bills have already begun transforming their defense and freeing up space under the salary cap by cutting two veteran starters: linebacker Nick Barnett and safety George Wilson.

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