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Jairus Byrd shows Saints and its fans what could have been and what might still be to come

Jarius Byrd played his best game as a Saint last Saturday against the Buccaneers, and he showed why he was named to three Pro Bowl teams before signing with the Saints. While we haven’t seen enough of this since 2014, it might just be a sign of what Byrd could do next season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Since signing with the New Orleans Saints, Jairus Byrd’s career has been on a downward path. He hasn’t been able to live up to the massive expectations that came with his massive price tag ($54 million over six years), and while some of it can be blamed on injuries, most of it has to do with the lack of good play on the field. He has often been out of position or just a step late to make the big impact plays we all expected to see on a regular basis.

At least that was the case for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, where he only forced three total turnovers (1 intereption, 2 forced fumbles) and the defense was based with Byrd as the lone deep safety. Now however, Byrd doesn't have to cover the entire field all by himself. No, now the Saints have Vonn Bell, who so far this season, has helped make the three-safety look the base set for the Saints and thereby allowed Byrd to focus more on one thing instead of having to read the entire field.

We saw the improvement last Saturday where Byrd picked off Jameis Winston two times. He looked just like the guy in Buffalo, who picked off 22 passes in only 5 years. The guy the Saints have been so desperate to find over the last couple of years.

While this game was clearly his best, Byrd has actually been improving all season. According to Pro Football Focus, Byrd has an 80.8 grade for the season. That is solid improvement over his 75.6 grade in 2015 and his awful 46.4 grade in 2014. He has done this by playing closer to the line of scrimmage, limiting his mistakes and maybe most importantly, focusing more on reading one side of the field, with either Kenny Vaccaro or Vonn Bell covering the other.

The Saints are using a new strategy with Byrd this season and it seems to be working. There has been much talk about whether or not the team should cut him this offseason to save some cap space and move on from a bad deal, but Byrd is starting to prove that he might just be worthy of a roster spot next season, even with the big salary. He hasn't done much yet, but we have seen signs and hopefully he can build on that and be even better going forward. Maybe even like that guy that played in Buffalo from 2009 to 2013.