The C.J. Spiller holdout is annoying. There's no arguing that one. The Buffalo Bills rookie is one of just two unsigned first-round picks, and with the No. 9 selection slotted for roughly 48 hours now, excuses run short for the lingering holdout the longer it exists. As Mark Gaughan points out this morning, the fact that Spiller is just the latest in a long line of recent first-round holdouts for the Bills is perhaps the most irritating trend of all.
Still, we're with GM Buddy Nix on this one: it's not time to panic. Not quite yet. Soon. But not yet.
Nix spoke briefly with the media regarding the holdout on Tuesday night, saying that the team was still working on negotiations with Spiller's agent, Gary Wichard, but that no deal was imminent.
"Probably in a couple of days, if he don't (sign), I will have something to say," Nix foreshadowed.
As distressing as the situation is, this is not a repeat of the Aaron Maybin holdout that we gnashed our teeth through a year ago.
Most rookies will be fine after ending a lengthy holdout, particularly if they play a position at which it's easier to transition from college to the pros. In 2006, safety Donte Whitner held out until August 5, but was the team's starting strong safety by Week 2, registered an interception in his first pro game, and had a career-high 105 tackles as a rookie. That's a fairly typical case, particularly considering that Whitner signed more than a month before the start of the regular season.
Maybin was a worst-case scenario. Michael Crabtree's lengthy holdout was a catalyst for Maybin's issues, first and foremost, so circumstances that the Bills nor Maybin's agent could control were affecting progress. Then there was the fact that Maybin was one of the most inexperienced prospects entering the league, was barely drinking age when he was drafted, and played one of the most notoriously difficult positions to learn as an NFL rookie. The fact that Maybin held out until August 21 - just a hair over three weeks before the Bills' season opener - doomed his already-destined-to-be-statistically-desolate rookie season from the start.
Spiller's nowhere near Maybin territory, and he'll never approach being that out of the loop. This goes beyond the fact that Spiller is a running back, the position widely considered to be the easiest for collegians to play well at as NFL rookies. Spiller is also far more experienced, having played in 52 games at Clemson, compared to Maybin's 22 at Penn State. (He's also far more mature as a person, for whatever that's worth.)
Then there's the fact that Spiller, while behind, is not as behind as most perceive him to be. To date in training camp, the majority of Chan Gailey's practice sessions have been occupied by individual positional drills - fundamental work, if you will. Clearly, that type of one-on-one attention would benefit Spiller, but it's not like he won't get that type of work in pretty much every day for the rest of his career. Gailey has still not installed major new chunks of the offensive system, either, so while Spiller has missed valuable review work, he hasn't missed anything new - and the odds are great that Spiller has been buried in his playbook since last Thursday anyway.
Long story short - the Spiller holdout isn't seriously impacting his ability to be the contributor the team needs him to be in 2010. It may very well reach that point soon - Nix seems to be thinking along those lines - but what he's missed up to this point is not so major that his rookie season is doomed from the start.
I get the impatience. I'm impatient, too, because let's be honest - Spiller was the keystone piece to the off-season, he's really the only reason to get excited about the team this year from a superficial level, and if there's one player selling more tickets than any other this year, Spiller's that guy. I wholly understand, and I'm with you - obviously, we'd all rather this was done already, or that it gets done very soon. The politics of the situation, the negotiating over intricacies within a contract that we don't really care about - I get all of that. But it's important to the team, and it's important to Spiller. As I said up top, excuses are running short. But it's not time to panic, nor to vilify Spiller for not wanting to be here. That's miles from the truth.