In what amounts to a tremendous blow to their struggling defense, the New Orleans Saints announced on Friday that they have placed starting free safety Jairus Byrd on season-ending injured reserve.

Byrd, who signed a whopping six-year, $54 million free-agent contract with the Saints in the offseason, suffered a torn lateral meniscus in practice this week.

While the Pro Bowler hasn’t played incredibly well this season, he’s still going to be a major loss for a defense that ranks 29th in the NFL in total yards and 27th in points against.

Byrd is coming off a season that saw him grade out as the eighth-best safety in the NFL according to official Pro Football Focus metrics. It was his second consecutive Pro Bowl campaign in Western New York.

With Byrd sidelined for the season, the Saints announced that Rafael Bush will replace him in the starting lineup. That’s a major downgrade for a unit that needs all the help it can get after a poor performance over the course of the first four weeks.

Now at 1-3 on the season, New Orleans is in must-win mode against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend. A loss here and its season could be over before it really even started. And in reality, its biggest free-agent signing in years will end his first season with the club as a non-factor. That’s not good news for Sean Payton and Co.

Photo: USA Today