Less than four full days ago, the Buffalo Bills were a day into 2009 training camp, and had gotten there without four rookies. Starting training camp a week earlier than most NFL teams, Buffalo had an unfortunate disadvantage in signing rookies before camp; the goal, as we perceived it, was for the Bills to try to wrap up their rookies before the rest of the NFL's teams reported for training camp. That way, even while missing time, Buffalo's holdout rookies would be getting as much or more pre-season preparation as their draft classmates.
Just a few short days later, the Bills have been pretty successful in reaching that goal. Fourth-round TE Shawn Nelson got a deal early and missed only one practice. Two days later, second-round OG Andy Levitre got his deal and began practicing with the team. Just yesterday, the Bills finalized deals for first-round OG Eric Wood and second-round FS Jairus Byrd. (Both will report to camp, though Byrd will be sidelined for two weeks as he recovers from sports hernia surgery.)
That progress means that seven of eight rookies are signed, sealed and (mostly) delivered. One rookie stands alone, still unsigned. You could make the argument that he's the most important rookie the team has; as the No. 11 overall pick, he's certainly the most prominent. The problem is, no one is quite sure how long it will be before Aaron Maybin reports to camp.
It's got to hurt to be Maybin right now
As fired up as most people can get about rookie holdouts, the reality of the situation is that this scenario is far more painful for the player. Aaron Maybin has very little control over his situation right now. Sure, he can gently nudge his agent, Joel Segal, and ask him to try to hurry things along if he's feeling antsy. But rookie negotiations take place between agents and teams. This is a different animal than negotiating a deal with a veteran. The process is far more structured. The rookie (and the agent and the franchise, for that matter) is hamstrung by the built-in idiosyncracies of the rookie signing process.
If you follow Maybin on Twitter, you've probably realized by now that the talkative rookie defensive end has been rather quiet about the situation. He's working out daily, staying in shape. In short, he's doing what he's supposed to do - staying (physically) prepared and keeping his head down. But you know that it's killing him. It killed Eric Wood, and he only missed five days. Maybin could be looking at a much longer solo workout schedule.
Factors preventing a quick signing
First and foremost, as signing rookies centers highly around which rookies drafted near a player have already reached deals (or certain landmark parameters in negotiations), Maybin's luck is short at the moment. Only five first-round picks have signed deals - QB Matthew Stafford (No. 1 overall), QB Mark Sanchez (No. 5), C Alex Mack (No. 21), our very own Wood (No. 28) and DT Evander Hood (No. 32). Zero players picked between Nos. 6 and 21 overall have deals yet - and Maybin is near the middle of that group.
His agent, Joel Segal, doesn't help, either. Segal has a reputation for showing extreme patience in negotiating rookie deals. ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio has aptly covered this situation, pointing out that the brewing lengthy holdout of No. 10 overall pick WR Michael Crabtree in San Francisco could have a profound effect on Maybin's negotiations. True to form, Segal is exhibiting patience; there has been little or no communication between Segal and the Bills.
Another little-talked about factor in this situation is the position that Maybin plays. He's a defensive end; more specifically, he's a pass rusher. The Kansas City Chiefs drafted DE Tyson Jackson No. 3 overall, but he's a 3-4 defensive end. He's a very different player than Maybin is. Maybin was the first player of his type - i.e. the first pass rusher - drafted this year. Washington's Brian Orakpo (No. 13) and perhaps Denver's Robert Ayers (No. 18) are relevant to track as this process unfolds. But you can bet that Segal is angling for a little extra cash given the position Maybin plays and where he was drafted.
When will it end?
This situation, by all current appearances, will likely be Buffalo's most worrisome and lengthy first-round holdout in the Dick Jauron era (i.e. over the last four years). Right now, there are far more reasons to be pessimistic about a rapid, peaceful resolution than to hope for a quick fix. Today - Thursday, July 30, 2009 - the holdout hasn't hurt Maybin significantly, because as we mentioned up top, he has the same amount of training camp experience as any other NFL rookie (outside of a few teams here and there).
The problem is this: there's no end in sight. Once the team hits its second full week of preparation on Saturday, the clock will really start ticking on Maybin. As they say, the sooner this gets done, the better. Just don't hold your breath. This thing isn't anywhere close to being resolved.