Eighteen days ago today, the Buffalo Bills opened 2009 training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, New York. The team began formal preparations for the 2009 season without first-round draft pick DE Aaron Maybin (as well as four other rookies). Nearly three full weeks after training camp commenced, Maybin remains unsigned. He has missed 17 practices, dozens of meetings and walk-throughs, and the Bills' first of five pre-season games on the season. The Penn State alum is one of just five NFL rookies awaiting rookie deals, and no rookie has missed as much time as Maybin.
Anxiety was running high in this fan base when camp opened without Maybin; to say things have gotten worse in three weeks is a severe understatement. Right now, things are quite vitriolic between Maybin and the fan base - so much so, in fact, that Maybin has commenced a Twitter hiatus.
Fingers are pointing in several directions here: at San Francisco holdout WR Michael Crabtree and his agent, Eugene Parker; at Maybin's agents, Joel Segal and Chafie Fields; even at Maybin himself. The fact of the matter, however, is that playing the blame game is a fruitless endeavor, because not one single party is completely at fault for this unfortunate situation.
LaVar Arrington: Publicist
Maybin, a Penn State alum, has a public and well-known friendship with fellow PSU alum and NFL linebacker LaVar Arrington. On Tuesday, we found out for the first time that not only are the two friends, but Arrington is also Maybin's publicist - and he called the Associated Press to do a little damage control for his friend-slash-client:
"This Crabtree kid is putting people in this predicament," Arrington said. "I just think people’s hands are tied until this guy gets around to doing what he’s going to do."
Arrington refers, of course, to the borderline hostility between Crabtree - selected immediately before Maybin in this past April's draft - and the San Francisco 49ers. The two sides are firmly entrenched in what has the feel of a lengthy holdout, and like it or not, the progress (or lack thereof) in these negotiations are having a profound effect on Maybin's negotiations in Buffalo - not to mention with three other unsigned rookies as well (Bengals OT Andre Smith, Jaguars OT Eugene Monroe and Packers NT B.J. Raji).
Like any good publicist, Arrington went out of his way to publicly put the onus for his friend-slash-client's lengthy holdout on the other, more hostile holdout. That's fine - he's a publicist-slash-friend. The idea that Crabtree's holdout is solely to blame for Maybin's holdout, however, is preposterous - even if there is a very large degree of truth in the sentiment. "Hands tied" is a poor term, but there is most certainly an impact on negotiations.
Joel Segal: Busy Elsewhere
Much has been made of the fact that one of Maybin's agents, Joel Segal, is known throughout NFL circles as an agent with unique, overly patient business practices. If you didn't believe it before, a three-weeks-and-counting holdout should really hammer the point home. Segal only represents one other first-round pick, Vikings WR Percy Harvin, and therefore understandably is trying to wheedle every cent out of the Bills. All in the name of his client, of course.
Negotiations with Buffalo are at a standstill; while Maybin twiddles his thumbs (or, as circumstances have it, gets emotional watching his team play without him), however, Segal is busy trying to get another high-profile client a deal. Meanwhile, Segal's business partner, Chafie Fields, is remaining publicly mum. Good for him. These guys are good agents for a reason - they get their clients more-than-fair deals.
Aaron Maybin: In a Catch-22
There is a strong chance that Maybin could be the very last rookie to sign his contract. Maybin is feeling pretty misunderstood at the moment - hence his Twitter hiatus. He clearly wants to be on the field (we were serious about his crying during the Hall of Fame Game, in case you hadn't heard it elsewhere), but he can't exactly settle for a contract he and his agent don't view as fair. You never know in this game - this might be the only NFL contract Maybin signs, and most of it won't be guaranteed. He has a right to his money, even if he exasperates fans (and himself) along the way.
The Buffalo Bills: Going about their business
Rarely do you hear much complaining from the fan base towards the franchise in this type of situation. It's much easier for fans to claim greed on the player's or the agent's part, or other mitigating circumstances. Why is the possibility that the Bills are low-balling Maybin mentioned so infrequently? All's fair in the blame game, people.
That said, it takes two to tango, as they say, and the Bills are very likely finding it difficult to negotiate with an agent that, at least from what we can glean, isn't anywhere near in a rush to get a deal done. That's all the Bills can control, too - half of the negotiation. Maybin isn't under contract. They can't fine, suspend, or do anything but try to chip away at this thing while Dick Jauron and his coaching staff prepares the rest of the team for the season opener.
Bills fans: Understandably Impatient
We as Bills fans have only one objective: unflinchingly wish to see anything that helps the team end its decade-long playoff skid. That's what fans do. It's therefore understandable that we tend to get extremely antsy - oh, screw it, we get ragingly pissed off - when something happens to threaten the team's potential success. Maybin's holdout clearly fits that criteria.
But the blame game is a fruitless endeavor, folks. There can't be one side to blame here, nor is any one side completely blameless. Sometimes, these things work themselves out quickly; other times, a perfect storm brews and the situation drags in irritating fashion. Unfortunately, Maybin's on the boat with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Each side of this situation has a rooting interest.
It's Maybin's fault! If he wants to play, then just sign! Can't happen. First of all, just because a player holds out doesn't mean he doesn't want to play. Nothing about Aaron Maybin as a person suggests that he's some diva just looking for a pay day. He works out like a maniac. Cynicism and skepticism reign, clearly, but Maybin wants to be out there, folks. But he's doing himself a disservice by taking any old deal just to placate his fans and get onto the field. That doesn't make him greedy; it merely makes him cautious. He knows his popularity has taken a hit in the public eye; it's not about that. It's about doing himself right by the parameters of the situation.
Maybin should just fire Segal! That's a bad idea, too. Not only would he have to wait a week to hire a new agent (per NFL rules), but what little progress that has been made in the negotiations would be completely eradicated - and why wouldn't a new agent wait to see what Crabtree gets, too? That's a bigger risk than the holdout itself.
Agents are greedy! Segal's a jerk! Agents have families to feed, too, folks - and, more importantly to them, future clients to rope in. People don't like lawyers, either, but that doesn't mean that they're not doing their jobs well when they're irritating defendants. Segal's job is to get as much as he can for his client. He has to trust that as soon as Maybin sees the field, he'll start making plays - because if that doesn't happen, well, he got him that great initial deal, didn't he? You couldn't pay me enough to be an agent. It would suck to be paid to be hated.
This was a wasted draft pick! Maybin's a bust! Well, you know how I feel about that one. Players aren't drafted based on who their agents are. Let the kid play before making that judgment.
Vitriol is understandable, but a failure to grasp the reality of this situation isn't, folks. Don't blame one side. All sides share the blame, and for very different reasons. More importantly, don't judge any side of the holdout - all sides have rooting interests, and as painful as it is to admit for a fan, they're doing their jobs the right way. These things happen. It's time for us to understand that.
My advice to you: fret that Maybin isn't on the field. Worry about how the holdout might impact his play. Gnash your teeth over the prospect of a Bills pass rush similar to last year's. Wash, rinse, repeat. It is pointless to point fingers, because the blame game has no true winner or loser. It is what it is. It's not exactly in the job description of a fan - particularly Bills fans, who have exhibited enough of the trait I'm about to mention to last several eternities - but patience is a requirement.