The holdout of Buffalo Bills rookie defensive end Aaron Maybin has reached its eleventh day. Due to the fact that the Bills reported to training camp as a full squad earlier than any other team, Maybin's holdout has been, and remains, the longest rookie holdout to date.
We wrote last week that there was no end in sight for this holdout to end; a week later, that remains the brutal truth. However, there has been some change in the past four or five days that is worth noting - even if it's mostly bad news for the Bills and Maybin.
First-round signings speeding up
When last we wrote about this impasse, only a handful of first-round picks had signed deals. Now, 23 of 32 round one selections are signed, sealed and delivered, with Broncos DE Robert Ayers and Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin the latest to end their holdouts.
The nine players currently without deals are as follows: Chiefs DE Tyson Jackson (No. 3 overall), Seahawks LB Aaron Curry (No. 4), Bengals OT Andre Smith (No. 6), Jaguars OT Eugene Monroe (No. 8), Packers DT B.J. Raji (No. 9), 49ers WR Michael Crabtree (No. 10), Maybin, Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno (No. 12), and Saints DB Malcolm Jenkins (No. 14).
You see the immediate problem. No player selected between Nos. 8 and 12 are currently signed. That's a rather large gap, and Maybin is right near the middle of it. The only player who might be close to a deal out of that group is Moreno; ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter has a hunch that Moreno's deal will be hammered out by Thursday morning. Moreno was picked right after Maybin. A Moreno deal would only help Buffalo move a bit closer to a Maybin signing.
Sitting directly at the center of the group of five holdouts is Crabtree, with his infamous (in Buffalo, at least) agent, Eugene Parker. Despite a short-lived rumor that surfaced Monday that Crabtree had a deal, there is very little progress being made between Parker/Crabtree and the 49ers. In fact, 49ers beat reporter Matt Maiocco estimates that the two sides are between $8 million and $10 million apart in terms of guaranteed money. Right now, Crabtree is the holdup, folks.
No. 7 overall pick WR Darrius Heyward-Bey received $23.5 million guaranteed from Oakland. No. 13 overall pick DE Brian Orakpo got $12.1 million guaranteed from Washington. That $12 million wiggle room is the issue right now, and Crabtree is likely searching for guarantees in excess (or at least in the ballpark) of what DHB got from the Raiders. A Moreno signing might help, but the gap between the Bills and Maybin is likely over guaranteed money as well, and Maybin and his agent, Joel Segal, aren't likely to ramp up negotiations until there's movement on the Crabtree front.
A quick dash of perspective
Eleven days seems like a long time. When you're a rookie, it likely feels like an eternity. But it is important to note that the Bills as a team are still five days' worth of practices away from the first of five pre-season games. Their second pre-season game, a home tilt with the Chicago Bears, does not take place until August 15. These negotiations are of the type that when they heat up, breakthroughs come quickly and deals are finished rapidly. Even if Maybin doesn't sign for another two weeks, he'll still have three pre-season games with which to get into football shape for the season. He's not a starter, and there's still plenty of time to prepare. This is valuable time, but for now, this holdout isn't the end of the world.
If worst comes to worst
There's no question why Buffalo drafted Maybin in the first place - he's here to bolster a lackluster pass rush. Let's say for a moment, however, that Maybin's holdout extends so deeply into the pre-season that he's either unavailable or ill-prepared to contribute in Week 1. There are three (pretty obvious) current Bills players that will need to pick up the slack.
DE Aaron Schobel. No-brainer. He's Buffalo's highest-paid defender, and has been essentially the entirety of the team's pass rush for much of this decade. He'll be counted on whether the Bills have Maybin in the fold or not; without help from the rookie, however, there's even more pressure on Schobel and his recently-healed foot to perform.
LB Kawika Mitchell. Again, not much surprise here. Without help from Maybin, the Bills will need to blitz, blitz and blitz some more if they want to get any sort of consistent pass rush on Tom Brady in Week 1. Last season, Mitchell was defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's favorite blitzer, as evidenced by his team-leading four sacks.
DE Chris Ellis. Here's the critical element: with Copeland Bryan nursing an injury (and unlikely to make the team), and with only three ends ahead of Ellis on the depth chart, Ellis would see playing time in the even the team is without Maybin for games that count. The second-year pro had a highly invisible rookie season, but has had a strong camp to date, exhibiting much more upper body strength and some quickness around the edge. A strong early-season surge from Ellis would go a long way toward helping the Bills wait on Maybin, but how reliable can Ellis be right away?
The clock ticks, folks...