JOHN WAWROW,AP Sports Writer
PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — The NFL isn’t going to stand in safety Jairus Byrd’s way to open the regular season.
In granting the Buffalo Bills’ request to have the newly re-signed player not count on their roster, the league limited the exemption only through the team’s final two preseason games.
The ruling, announced Wednesday, becomes the next step in clearing the way for the two-time Pro Bowl safety to open the season on the active roster.
Byrd, however, must still pass a physical.
One of the reasons Byrd signed this week was to avoid missing regular-season games.
The exemption granted by the NFL begins Tuesday, when teams are required to cut their rosters to 75 players.
It does not extend past Aug. 31, when teams have to establish their 53-player rosters.
The Bills approached the NFL for an exemption a day after Byrd signed his one-year, $6.9 million franchise tender. General manager Doug Whaley told The Associated Press he had not ruled out having the exemption extend into the regular season.
“An extra roster spot is always a good thing,” Whaley said, when asked if Byrd could be exempted for the Bills opener against New England on Sept. 8.
That request was denied because the NFL generally limits exemptions to two games. Buffalo plays at Washington on Saturday, and closes the preseason hosting Detroit on Aug. 29.
Byrd would not have been paid if he wasn’t on the active roster for the first week of the season.
Whaley described the request as “standard procedure,” when involving a player such as Byrd, who has missed nearly the entire offseason because he was unsigned.
Though Byrd is now under contract, he is not expected to report to the team until later this week.
He’s missed all of the team’s offseason workouts, and all of training camp after the Bills held their final practice in suburban Rochester on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, coach Doug Marrone was encouraged by Byrd’s signing, and didn’t believe it would take long for the safety to grasp the defense installed by new coordinator Mike Pettine.
“We all know what type of player he is,” Marrone said. “I don’t think it’s probably as big of an issue as maybe people might make it out to be. … I’m sure that he was in communication with a lot of his teammates. And I think that that helps the transition when he comes back in knowing what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The Bills wrapped up camp with a 90-minute practice.
The mood was light and upbeat. Receivers switched jerseys, running backs played hot potato after practice, and there were several pranks pulled.
A video of running back Fred Jackson dunking a miniature basketball over Marrone in the team’s locker became popular after being released on the Internet.
It’s something that continued to illustrate a growing bond between the players and the rookie coach.
Jackson, one of Buffalo’s veteran leaders, has sensed a positive difference.
“The whole team, everybody’s really buying into the systems and everything that the coaching staff is putting in,” Jackson said. “Tremendous energy out of our coaching staff and excitement. I haven’t seen guys this excited for a long time.”
Buffalo’s new-look defense tops the list of positives for the Bills, who now return to their Orchard Park headquarters. Throughout camp, the defenders frequently flustered the offense with a variety of blitzes.
On offense, Buffalo’s young receivers have played well. Rookie speedster Marquise Goodwin was among the team’s best overall performers, making big plays down the field.
Goodwin, along with rookie second-round pick Robert Woods, are being counted upon to take pressure off returning starter Stevie Johnson this season.
Injuries at quarterback were the most disappointing aspect of camp. Rookie EJ Manuel appeared well on his way toward earning the starting job until injuring his left knee in a 20-16 win over Minnesota on Friday.
The first-round draft pick is expected to miss the rest of the preseason, but has not been ruled out for the opener.
Manuel’s injury came less than a week after veteran Kevin Kolb returned from a left knee injury. Kolb was hurt Aug. 3, when he slipped on a wet rubber mat between practice fields.
Marrone was pleased with camp, but stressed there’s more work to be done.
“We’ve got to continue to get better,” Marrone said. “We’re still a work in progress and we’re not where we need to be.”
AP freelancer Mark Ludwiczak contributed to this story.
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