CJ Spiller, stud running back right? Why would there even be a question of what do with him? Well, this is the Buffalo Bills we are talking about so we do need to pose the question. CJ can opt out of his rookie deal at the end of the 2014 season and become a free agent. The Bills will not be looking to repeat the Jairus Byrd contract situation therefore if the Bills want to keep CJ they should get a new deal done now. However, should the Bills even look to resign CJ? Let’s examine…
Through four seasons CJ is averaging 755 yards rushing a season (at 5.1 ypc), 268 yards receiving and has 19 touchdowns (12 rushing, 5 receiving, 2 returning). Now these aren’t terrible numbers but certainly not what Bills fans were expecting from the 9th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Coming off a stellar college career at Clemson, CJ was a top 10 pick in an era were running backs have to be truly special to even warrant first round draft status. Add to the fact he was picked by a team that already featured Marshawn Lynch (also a first round pick) and Fred Jackson (coming off a 1,000 yard season) the expectations were very high for him. CJ followed that up by having an electric pre-season in 2010 raising expectations even further. Then the first game of the year happened, against Miami on opening day of the 2010 season CJ rushed 7 times for 6 yards and had 4 catches for a total of 8 yards. Not only did he not run well, he looked lost. Soon enough he was third string, a few good games from Lynch followed by him being traded led to what looked like a two pronged rushing attack featuring Freddy and CJ. Yeah, that didn’t work either. From the Jacksonville game in 2010 (the first one after Lynch was traded) till the Miami game in 2011 (when Jackson broke his leg) which is a span of 20 games CJ had a total of 349 yards rushing with 1 TD and 25 receptions for 176 yards. Many fans were calling him a bust, and many fans didn’t really care because Fred Jackson was putting up career numbers during this time span.
After Jackson suffered a broken leg in 2011 CJ caught fire, it seemed the only thing that could slow him down through the last 6 games of 2011 and all of 2012 was Chan Gailey. Ironically the coach who seemed to know how to use CJ best (using draws, counters and screens-naturally long developing plays) was also the only one who seemed to be able to slow him down as well. There were too many times were the Tashard Choices of the world were getting carries that the 9th overall pick should have been receiving.
This takes us to the 2013 season, were coach Hackett vowed to give CJ the ball “till he threw up”. Once again, didn’t happen. Many will blame the ankle injury which is fair, however CJ had very poor games against New England and the Jets in weeks 1 and 3 respectively before the injury.
Now back to the question, what should the Bills do with CJ Spiller? This question is twofold, both on the field and contract wise. On the field they need to decide what kind of offense they are. Last year the Bills went for ground and pound, predictably both running backs got banged up while also showing the weaknesses in CJ’s game (lack of patience on runs up the middle, not allowing blockers to get in place). Towards the end of 2011 and the 2012 season the Bills were running more of a spread offense with 3 and 4 wide receivers and CJ excelled. With Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin I hope to see this kind of offense more often. When asking a Jets fan (yes, they’re people too!!!) about what worries him about CJ he said he worries about him once the Jets get a lead, when the Bills spread things out is when CJ shows the dynamic part of his game. If the Bills don’t want to run this type of offense (which they didn’t last year) I don’t think CJ is a fit then. Now if the Bills do want to spread it out CJ can be productive, which leads us to his contract.
CJ’s contract is going to be tricky, many Bills fans groaned when ESPN reported that CJ was not only looking to hire a new agent (he hasn’t had one since the death of his previous agent a few years back) but that he’d be consulting Jairus Byrd for free agency advice. CJ was part of the last first round that did not feature a rookie wage scale, which means that CJ made a lot more money on his first contract than any running back that’s come out of the draft in the last four years. Now like people in any profession, no one wants to go down in pay, CJ’s rookie deal was for 6 years and 39.3 million dollars (he can opt out of the final year which all signs point towards him doing). CJ is already the 8th highest paid running back in football per Spotrac.com. If the Bills were to give him a raise of say 2-3 million dollars a year it would make him in the Shady McCoy/Matt Forte realm of pay. Do the Bills want to pay that to a RB who hasn’t proven he can stay healthy and has 1 and a half good seasons through 4 years? My guess is the Bills offer him a 4 year deal (which will take him past the dreaded age of 30) for around 5-6 million dollars a year (keeping him in the top 5 highest paid backs). That is the dilemma, CJ is already making that money, and as we’ve learned from all the draft coverage this past weekend, all these players agents are preaching to them about getting paid on the second contract. If the Bills let the season play out without an extension I see Spiller flying the coup ala Byrd.
What do you think Bills fans? Should they pursue an extension right now, see how the season goes or even consider a trade? Let me know what you think.