By: Christian Kaposy and Anna Glenn Grove
Kevin Byard has been in the Middle Tennessee area since 2011 and he does not plan on leaving anytime soon.
Byard signed a five year deal worth $70.5 million on Wednesday night, first reported by ESPN’s Adam Shefter. The new deal makes Byard the highest paid safety in the NFL.
“I could have never imagined that I would be in this position. I prayed for it, but this is a testament to hard work, honesty, and staying humble,” Byard said. “It’s a blessing. It feels good, it feels great, but now you have to go earn it.”
Of the $70.5 million included in the deal, $31 million is guaranteed. A 2016 third round draft pick out of Middle Tennessee State, Byard has played in all 50 games during his three seasons with the Titans. After appearing in the first nine games of his rookie season as a reserve, he was inserted into the starting lineup Week 10 of the 2016 season and has never left.
Titans General Manager Jon Robinson, who drafted Byard in his first year as GM, was very pleased to sign Byard to an extension. “To have him in a Titans uniform for several years to come was pretty important,” said Robinson. “He’s earned everything he’s gotten and we’re proud he’s a Titan.” Robinson is certainly impressed with Byard’s play on the field, but he also appreciates who he is off the field. “Just really proud of certainly the player he is on the field, but more importantly the person he is in this community, the husband he is, and the soon-to-be father he will be.”
After starting seven games as a rookie, Byard quickly made a name for himself in his second NFL season. Tying a franchise record with three interceptions in a game at Cleveland, Byard followed that performance with two more INTs the following week vs. Baltimore. With five interceptions in a two-game span, he became the first player in franchise history to accomplish this feat. By the end of the season, Byard had intercepted eight passes, tying Detroit’s Darius Slay for the NFL lead, and led the league in total takeaways with ten. His play earned him first-team Associated Press All-Pro honors and he played in his first Pro Bowl.
In 2018, Byard started all 16 games for the second consecutive season, as he once again lead the team in interceptions with four. Although he made some outstanding plays on defense, his personal highlight for the 2018 season came on special teams. In a Week 2 matchup with Houston, the Titans were lined up to punt with Byard at his usual position of personal protector for Brett Kern, when a direct snap to Byard resulted in a 66 yard touchdown pass to Dane Cruikshank. Byard’s pass was the longest touchdown pass by a defensive player in the Super Bowl era and the longest pass play for the Titans last year.
While his 12 career interceptions through three seasons are impressive, his availability might be even more valuable in the Titans eyes. During the past two seasons, the Titans defense has been on the field for 2,134 snaps. Of those 2,134 snaps, Byard has only missed six. While he has been on the field for 99.7% of defensive snaps, he also plays an important role on special teams, specifically on punts.
“This is a team sport. I’m all about the team, I’m all about the guys. I want to help this team win multiple championships,” Byard said.