As Bills receiver Stevie Johnson approaches the final 60 minutes of his rookie contract, the question of whether he’ll remain with the team soon will become an even hotter topic in one of the league’s coldest climates.
Joe Buscaglia of WGR radio in Buffalo reports that Johnson asked for a contract worth $7.5 million per year during negotiations with the team. Per Buscaglia, the Bills have made no offers during the past month.
In September, Buscaglia reported that the two sides were more than $2 million apart annually.
If the Bills and Johnson can’t work out a contract by late February, the Bills will have to decide whether to use the franchise tag to limit his mobility. But since that would entail giving Johnson a one-year, guaranteed salary of roughly $9.5 million, the Bills likely are reluctant to make that kind of a commitment, given their apparent reluctance to pay him $7.5 million per year on a long-term deal.
Agent C.J. Laboy commented on the situation with Sal Capaccio of WGR. “We were approached to do a deal prior to the season starting,” Laboy said. “When it became clear that the two sides were too far apart, we agreed that it would be best to shelve negotiations and allow Stevie to focus on the season. Stevie never wanted his contract status to be a distraction to him or his teammates. At that time, the Bills turned their focus on getting [Ryan Fitzpatrick's] contract done, which they ultimately did. A week or so after Ryan’s deal was done, the Bills wanted to re-open negotiations, but when it quickly became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to get a deal done, Stevie decided that it was best to wait until the end of the year before talking about his contract again.”
And Laboy seemed to confirm the range of Johnson’s expectations. “Stevie was more than willing to do a discounted deal with the Bills because of his loyalty to the organization for giving him his chance in the NFL, his loyalty to his teammates, and his love for the city of Buffalo,” Laboy said. “Any reports of Stevie asking for 10, 9, or even 8 million dollars a year are completely false and misleading.”
Ultimately, Johnson may have to test the market in order to determine whether someone else will offer more than what the Bills have offered, and whether Johnson is willing to leave Buffalo.
Through 15 games, Johnson has 964 yard receiving, 109 yards short of his career high in 2010. He also has 72 catches and six touchdowns; last year, he caught 82 passes and 10 touchdowns.
But untimely drops continue to plague Johnson. Last year, he had a game-winning score in his hands against the Steelers, but somehow dropped it. Earlier this season against the Jets, he dropped another pass that could have delivered a win over the Jets.
Still, Johnson possesses the kind of name recognition that could prompt a receiver-needy team to overpay for his services on the first day of free agency, in order to generate offseason excitement and headlines — and to sell tickets and jerseys.