Blog Entry

Bills could choose to franchise WR Stevie Johnson

Posted on: December 4, 2011 11:27 am
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If Buffalo and Johnson don't agree on a long-term deal, he could be slapped with the franchise tag. (AP)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson is coming off a forgettable game against the Jets. Partly because of his touchdown-dance homage to Plaxico Burress' self-inflicted gunshot wound, but mostly because he dropped a Ryan Fitzpatrick (TD) pass that hit him right in the hands on Buffalo's last drive.

After a post-game apology from Johnson, and a sanctimonious finger-wagging sermon from Bob Costas, we're all ready to move on.

Earlier this season, Buffalo gave Fitzpatrick a $59 million contract extension. Next up on the team's to-do list: Johnson and running back Fred Jackson, who landed on injured reserve last month with a leg injury.

Even though the Bills haven't reached a long-term agreement with Johnson, it doesn't mean that he'll be playing elsewhere next season. The Buffalo News' Mark Gaughan provides details:
The time to get him at under market value was August or September, or maybe even immediately after quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick signed his contract extension on Oct. 29. Early in the season, a player in his contract year still has some motivation to strike an under-market deal, because he's getting security in the event of a serious injury during the season. …

Does that mean Johnson is gone? Not necessarily. The Bills still have the franchise tag in their pocket. They could use it on Johnson if no extension can be worked out between now and February. The franchise tag would guarantee Johnson about $9.5 million in 2012 on a one-year deal.

Would the Bills actually let one of their best players, at age 25, walk into free agency without keeping him in the fold with the franchise tag? Who knows? If they're willing to commit $9.5 million to him for next season, one would think they would be able to reach an extension of his deal.
Gaughan writes that the going rate for top-20 wideouts on the open market is about $8 million.

"There are 14 wide receivers making $7.65 million a year or more. Johnson is one of a handful of quality starters who are in the final year of their contracts," Gaughan writes. "They include: Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson, New England's Wes Welker, Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, San Diego's Vincent Jackson and New Orleans' Marques Colston. … All of those guys are going to be looking at recent deals signed by Dallas' Miles Austin and Seattle's Sidney Rice. Austin signed in 2010 for $8.1 million a year. Rice signed in July for $8.2 million a year."

Is Johnson worth that much? Relatively speaking, yeah.

He had 82 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010. And through 11 games in 2011, he has 52 catches for 622 yards and five scores. According to Football Outsiders' metrics Johnson isn't quite a top-20 wideout this season; he's 31st in total value and 42nd in value per play. Last season, Johnson ranked 12th and 26th, respectively.

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