One of the most satisfying sports story lines for fans is the redemption narrative. On the spectrum of dramatic moments in sports, it's right below its big brother, the Underdog Story. And one of the NFL's biggest redemption stories has to be that of the Bills' former first-round pick and current Jets defensive end, Aaron Maybin.
And to think that this one player could end up being the difference in a possible wild-card race between Maybin's two teams makes it all the more compelling.
Here's the whole story.
When the Buffalo Bills picked defensive end Aaron Maybin 11th overall in 2009, the team was seen as addressing a major need. Maybin appeared to be tonic the Bills defense needed to improve their limp pass rush. In 2008, the team registered only 24 sacks all year, which ranked them 28th in the NFL.
And when the Bills cut Maybin coming out of training camp last year, the move was met with a resigned sense of relief. Buffalo radio personality, Chris "Bulldog" Parker, often opined that Maybin simply couldn't play the game of football. During his tenure, Maybin earned 23 tackles, $15 million, zero sacks and humiliating reaming out during training camp by Bills center Eric Wood.
In early 2011, Coach Chan Gailey called Maybin out, implying he agreed with Bulldog that Maybin simply didn't have the talent. In two years Maybin had established himself as one the franchise's all-time busts and a lightning rod for fans faced with an incompetent front office. The fans and the team seemed intent on cutting bait for a prospect that slipped through their fingers.
And then Maybin signed with the rival New York Jets and quickly and finally lived up to his "Mayhem" nickname, recording six sacks and four forced fumbles. Meanwhile, the Bills' 2011 sack leader was rookie DT Marcell Dareus with 5.5 while the team finished 27th in the league with 29 sacks, a number which might as well have an asterisk that says, "Thank you, John Beck."
While not letting Gailey and Bills' brass completely off of the hook for missing on Maybin, there seems to be a combination of factors that led to his unceremonious departure from the team. He was drafted to solve the Bills' pass-rushing woes yet the team wanted their high draft pick to be an every-down player, which is something Maybin was probably never meant to do.
In his second year, Maybin had a new coach, a new coordinator and a new position as outside linebacker in a new 3-4 scheme. As bad as Maybin was against run plays, he was worse in the pass coverage situations his new position demanded. By the end of the season, he couldn't even get on the field.
The biggest reason Maybin has found success with the Jets is because his assignment is much simpler. He doesn't have to play the run or drop into coverage, all he has to do is rush the quarterback on passing downs. And because of the overall strength and talent of the Jets defensive roster, Maybin will never need to be "the guy."
For Bills fans, the whole situation has become rather complex. Do they blame Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix, who are currently more popular among Bills fans than chicken wings and light beer, missing on Maybin? Do they think it's because the Bills are cursed (10 percent of every teams' fans fall in this camp)? Do they simply fear that Maybin may haunt Bills quarterbacks for years to come?
Jets fans have it far simpler. As long as Maybin and his $615,000 salary can cause mayhem on third down, their appreciation will be unconditional.
Still, should Maybin continue to play at his 2011 level, his presence on the Jets promises to haunt the Bills. And every time I read about the Bills' own linebacker-turned-defensive-end redemption story in-the-making, Shawne Merriman, I think about the younger, healthier Maybin, and wonder what might have been.
I don't think Maybin will ever justify where he was drafted, but I do think he can be a valuable player if he's used right. And with Rex Ryan, who recently gushed about Maybin's energy level in practice, it appears he's in good hands.