|Johnson and Buffalo are reportedly talking contract. (Getty Images)|
One of the guys we listed as a possible franchise-tag target last week was Bills receiver Stevie Johnson, who's coming off his second-straight season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. It just seems crazy that Buffalo would let their top passing weapon leave town for nothing.
And it sounds like they're not planning on it -- Rodney McKissic of The Buffalo News reports Thursday that the Bills and Johnson's agent, C.J. LaBoy, have begun preliminary discussions on contract negotiations.
McKissic writes that the two sides "have exchanged proposals and are expected to meet at next week's NFL Combine." LaBoy reportedly countered an offer from the Bills last week on Monday, which means there's probably a high- and low-end of a deal for Johnson established. (Presumably neither side is planning on negotiating against itself from the get-go.)
Johnson's contract negotiations should be interesting. He'd stand to make $9.4 million, all guaranteed, if he gets the franchise tag. And he could conceivably get real paid if he hits the open market and is one of the top wideouts available to teams.
Taking a look at wideout numbers over the past two years, via Pro-Football-Reference.com, Johnson's in pretty good company. He's one of just a few wideouts who caught more than 75 passes for more than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in each of the past two years, along with Marques Colston (also a potential free agent), Hakeem Nicks, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Roddy White.
Football Outsiders isn't quite as generous with their similarity score for Johnson (although, granted, it doesn't include 2011 yet). Put more layman-ly: Johnson's not regarded as an elite wide receiver quite yet.
Perhaps part of that is his penalty-inducing touchdown celebrations. (Although he told us that he was "done" doing those.) Then there's Johnson starting one game and catching 12 balls his first two years; Colston's a guy who was missed in the draft, but he emerged immediately.
Johnson won't get Santonio Holmes ($10 million per) money. And Buffalo probably won't pay him $8 million a year. But Johnson's production over the past two years warrants a deal that'll pay him something near that range that other wide receivers -- T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Sidney Rice anyone? -- have gotten recently.
Plus, as our own Pete Prisco noted on Thursday, there are a couple teams where Johnson would fit nicely if the Bills decided not to work out a deal.
That, plus the large number attached to the franchise tag, give Johnson some pretty nice leverage over the Bills in the coming weeks.
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