PITTSFORD – One of Fred Jackson’s first teammates to offer congratulations after he signed a contract extension this week was fellow running back C.J. Spiller.
Jackson’s response, via his Twitter page, referenced the impending decision the Buffalo Bills will have to make at his position.
“Let’s get urs done,” he wrote to Spiller, “Keep that 22-28 combo Rolling!!”
The Bills now have three proven NFL running backs – Jackson, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon – under contract for at least the next two seasons. So where does Spiller fit in that equation?
“Right now, I really haven’t given it any thought,” he said this week. “I’ve just been focusing on trying to get better at my craft. We’ve got time. Hopefully both sides will be able to get something done, and we can keep 28 and 22 together.”
Earlier in training camp, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora visited St. John Fisher and wrote “a trade market for Spiller could well develop over the next month.”
Spiller has heard the rumors, but once again, said he’s blocking them out.
“I have friends and family members that inform me on some of the things that are being said with the trade rumors and stuff like that. I’m not oblivious to that stuff. I’m not living on Mars or anything,” he said. “I can’t control what happens. My response to them is ‘don’t worry about it.’
“Once you start worrying about that type of stuff, you get off focus of what you’re trying to do. Until anything happens, I’m excited to be with the Bills and hopefully I’ll be around for this coming season.”
The first step for Spiller will be settling on an agent. He said he’s “closing in on” hiring someone – whom he declined to name at the time – and after that, it will be his representative’s responsibility to open discussions with the Bills.
It should be an interesting negotiation on both sides. From Spiller’s perspective, he’s looking at his second NFL contract – the one in which players are in their prime and looking for the biggest payday of their career.
His eventual representatives will assuredly point to the explosiveness he displayed at the end of the 2011 season and all of 2012, when he rushed for 1,690 yards (at 5.8 yards per carry), had 646 receiving yards and scored 13 touchdowns in a 22-game stretch.
The Bills, however, are likely to counter that in Spiller’s other 39 career games, he’s rushed for 1,331 yards, had 424 receiving yards and scored just four touchdowns. For whatever reason – be it players in front of him, nagging injuries or inexplicable coaching decisions – Spiller hasn’t been the centerpiece of the offense enough since being drafted ninth overall in 2010.
It’s a situation stuck in neutral at the moment. If the Bills wait to extend him and he has a big year, he likely prices himself out of the team’s plans. But at his current production through his first four seasons, has he warranted the type of contract he’ll likely be seeking?
Spiller’s contract will count nearly $6 million against the Bills’ cap this season and pay him nearly $3.5 million. He turns 27 next week.
A high-ankle sprain in 2013 robbed him of much of his explosiveness, resulting in significant drops in yards per carry (from 6.0 to 4.6), receiving yards (from 459 to 185) and total touchdowns (from eight to two) from 2012.
The injury, though, is fully healed.
“He doesn’t look hampered now. He looks more explosive than he did during the season last year,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “We just have to do a good job in the preseason with the amount of carries we give him and how much work he needs to get to get ready for the season.”
“People will never understand how painful it was for me to go out there and play, just because of the style that I play,” Spiller said of last season. “If I was more of a power back or a downhill runner, then it would have been easier, but I’m more of a stop-and-cut guy, exploding off it. I never knew how it was going to respond each and every play.”
Spiller hasn’t experienced any soreness in the ankle through the first two weeks of training camp, making him hopeful the issue is behind him for good.
“To come out here and be able to put the stress on it, that it needs leading up to a season, it’s responded well,” he said. I haven’t needed to get any treatment or anything, so that’s a good thing moving forward. I took my time getting back into training and stuff like that, being cautious, but once I felt that it was ready to go, it was full go. Now I feel that I’m back to where I once was before the injury.”
Spiller said he sees himself as a “bell cow” running back, but will play any role offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett asks of him.
“That’s not up to me,” he said about how best to divide touches.
“When I come to practice, my job is to focus and make sure I get the plays down. That stuff will take care of itself. The only thing I can control is how I’m preparing each day and try to get better at each practice.”
Spiller sees potential in the second year of Hackett’s system.
“You can definitely tell there is more comfort, especially with EJ Manuel. He has more command of it,” he said. “Hopefully we’re able to put some of those growing pains that we had last year away and move this offense forward. We have the talent to be a top-10 offense.”