Commentary

C.J. Spiller out of sight, under spotlight

Holdout rookie RB, released Schobel command attention in Bills' camp

Originally Published: August 4, 2010
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Two of the Buffalo Bills' biggest summer storylines are running back C.J. Spiller and defensive end Aaron Schobel. Neither player is in training camp.

Spiller is one of two unsigned first-round picks -- the other being Seattle offensive tackle Russell Okung -- and an agreement is not anywhere near at this report.

"It hurts," said Bills coach Chan Gailey. "He did a great job in OTAs and minicamp, but being here now is a different game. It doesn't help anybody. It doesn't help him, it doesn't help us. We hope it gets resolved as soon as it possibly can."

But it would not be a surprise to see the stalemate last into, and past, the Bills' first preseason game. Spiller has been speaking with running back Fred Jackson and texting with quarterback Trent Edwards, who are sympathetic to the rookie's situation. They spoke Wednesday with no animosity about their absent teammate.

Once Spiller signs and reports, he instantly will become the biggest marquee name on the Bills' roster. Buffalo needs him.

They no longer have Schobel, the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end whom the team decided to release Wednesday. The Bills had little choice because they didn't want to be on the hook financially.

For starters, Schobel had a $2 million roster bonus that was due in March. The bonus was retroactive until the Bills released Schobel. All Schobel would have had to do to collect it was show up at the Bills' camp to take his physical. If Schobel passed the test, the Bills would be on the hook for $2 million.

If the Bills flunked him on his physical, they would have been obligated to pay the $6.025 million base salary on Schobel's contract that was guaranteed for injury.

Because the Bills didn't want to pay the $2 million roster bonus or the $6.025 million base salary, they released him.

Though Schobel expressed reluctance to play for the Bills, he is eager to play somewhere this season. Teams around the league still want him playing defensive end.

Schobel is from Houston and is close with Houston Texans defensive line coach Bill Kollar; the Texans are an option. They're one of several teams that need a pass-rushing defensive end.

Buffalo now has solved its Schobel situation, and it eventually will sign Spiller. But there's no question this camp is missing something.

Other Bills' camp observations:

• For all the questions Buffalo has had about who would start at quarterback this season, Edwards now has positioned himself as the front-runner for the Bills' Sept. 12 regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins. "His confidence is sky high," said Jackson, who led the NFL in combined net yards last season. Edwards is the biggest, most experienced and best quarterback the Bills have in camp. Buffalo was hoping Ryan Fitzpatrick or Brian Brohm would challenge for the job, and maybe they still will. But the early indications are that the job belongs to Edwards, who is 14-16 as a starter. He has come to camp more relaxed, more mature and a better quarterback. During practices, it has shown.

• Edwards' hair has gotten so bushy and his sideburns so long that some of his teammates have begun teasing him and calling him Justin Bieber  the long-haired pop singer. Edwards' hair poses added burden in Pittsford's searing heat, but he said he will not cut it until the Bills lose. Now, one loss might not be the worst thing so Edwards can trim what he is calling "Angel Hair."

• Sometimes teams have to struggle before they succeed. Look at the Indianapolis Colts. For years, they were horrendous before they landed the No. 1 overall pick and the opportunity to draft quarterback Peyton Manning. A similar situation could await the Bills this season. While the young squad learns new coach Gailey and general manager Buddy Nix's system, many around the league believe the Bills will be positioned for a premier pick that could net them a franchise quarterback, such as Washington's Jake Locker or Stanford's Andrew Luck. Losing might be difficult to get through this season. But it might be the best thing that could happen to this franchise for future seasons.

• Expect some big changes on Buffalo's defense, with the Bills going from a 4-3 to a 3-4. It seems like everyone has a new position this summer. Last year's first-round pick Aaron Maybin and Chris Kelsay were switched from defensive end to outside linebacker; Marcus Stroud was moved from defensive tackle to defensive end; and former outside linebacker Kawika Mitchell now is at inside linebacker. So not only are there questions about personnel, but there are questions about how the personnel will adapt to the new positions.

• For some reason, former New England second-round pick Chad Jackson has struggled to find a home. But the wide receiver might be finding one in Buffalo. This summer, Jackson has impressed Gailey. "The guy comes out to play every day," Gailey said. "It looks like he's made up his mind that he wants to be a very good football player. I think that bouncing around is not what he intended for his career and I think he's decided to go out and make himself at the position. He's been impressive."

• There's a real soft spot in this reporter's heart for the Bills. In fact, my fantasy football team is called The Bills -- simply because three Brother-In-Laws (BILLS) make up our team. So it's hard to root against the NFL namesake of our family's fantasy football team.

• And now, on to Cortland, N.Y, and the New York Jets.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.