Tag:Stevie Johnson
Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:33 pm
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2012 NFL Franchise Tags: Winners and losers

Jackson's a big winner Monday, as he escaped the franchise tag like it was a defensive back. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

A record 21 players received a franchise tag in advance of Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, including six kicker-types. You can see everyone that got tagged at our 2012 NFL Franchise Tag Tracker. Let's break down the winners and losers below.

Winners

Vincent Jackson: Jackson held out most of 2010 because he wanted to get paid. He then signed his franchise-tag tender in 2011 because he wanted to get guaranteed money. Now that the Bolts declined to tag him, he's going to get filthy rich as one of the top two wide receivers to hit the free-agent market on March 13. Jackson and Marques Colston are the two top talents on a market that features several teams -- the Redskins, Rams, Jaguars, Vikings, and Seahawks, to name a few -- in need of a wideout.

Carl Nicks: Nicks reportedly hasn't heard anything on a new deal from the Saints and with New Orleans not reaching a deal with quarterback Drew Brees before the 4 p.m. ET deadline, Nicks is going to hit the open market on March 13. He's 26, a two-time Pro Bowler and made the All-Pro team in

Matt Flynn: Flynn wasn't expected to receive a tag from the Packers, but it's official now, and that means he'll hit the free-agent market. This is critical for Flynn given the number of quarterback-needy teams out there. It's also critical because the Packers won't control his next destination; if they tagged Flynn for the price of $14.4 million guaranteed (which he would sprint to sign), then they'd almost certainly end up trading him. Now Flynn gets to land a bigger contract on the open market.

Brandon Carr: The Chiefs decided to use their franchise tag on wideout Dwayne Bowe. That's a smart move, considering they signed cornerback Stanford Routt recently. But it also means that Carr, a 25-year-old defensive back coming off his best season in 2011, will have the chance to hit the open market. Young free-agent cornerbacks are a coveted commodity, and Carr should expect to get paid handsomely.

Stevie Johnson: The leverage of the guaranteed money involved with using the franchise tag on a wide receiver ($9.4 million) coupled with the deadline on Monday really escalated the talks with the Bills and Johnson, and he ended up netting a deal worth $7.25 million per year. That's not exactly on par with the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL, but

Losers

Wes Welker: The Pats could very well end up getting Wes Welker signed to a long-term deal, but he can't be happy about being put in a situation that could have him not reaching full free agency until he turns 32 (he'll turn 31 in May of this offseason) if the Patriots simply want him to play another year on the franchise-tag value. Welker would've hit a market that paid him handsomely and it might be difficult for the Patriots to pay him the money he wants over longer period of time. We could see a holdout here.

New Orleans Saints: As if things weren't bad enough for the Saints -- see here, here, here, here, here and, whew, here -- they're likely going to lose their top wide receiver (Marques Colston) and one of their top offensive linemen (Nicks) to free agency. Their quarterback (Drew Brees) is not happy with his contract situation, and losing two weapons like that won't do much to improve his mood. So once they get done with BountyGate, there should be plenty of more fun to deal with.

Cliff Avril
: Detroit should be thrilled that they bring Avril back, but that doesn't mean the defensive end has to be happy. He's not, because he knows he'd kill on the open market this season. He'll get more than $10 million guaranteed next year and that's why it seemed possible that the Lions could let him walk -- they've got more than half their salary cap tied up in Avril, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson next year. So there's some good news: the Lions very much would like to lock up Avril to a long deal.

Houston Texans
: The Texans locked up Arian Foster to a five-year deal that takes him through his 30-year-old season, which is perfect timing for a running back. But it's also giving a lot of money to a running back. (Foster is a tremendously talented guy, a perfect fit for what the Texans do, a great pass-blocker, a great pass-catcher and many other things. But he is still a running back.) On that same day, they were unable to secure Mario Williams, who was their No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Super Mario will become a free agent, and unless he's willing to take a serious discount to stay with the Texans, it's hard to fathom how they keep him.

Pittsburgh Steelers: It seemed like the Steelers decision to go on a cutting spree and get below the salary-cap line would result in them using the franchise tag on Mike Wallace, who's a restricted free agent. They didn't and because of a confluence of events, they could be in trouble. One, Stevie got $7.2 million a year just now. Two, Jackson and Colston will get big money in free agency. And three, various tags on other high-profile wide receivers will draw more interest for teams that could consider giving Wallace an offer sheet. He may very well end up staying with the Steelers, but there's at least reason to be concerned.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 2:34 pm
 

Stevie Johnson: Bounties are 'stupid, ridiculous'

Johnson's not a fan of NFL bounties. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Stevie Johnson, who got a brand-new, five-year contract from Buffalo on Monday, dropped by The Jim Rome Show on Monday to talk about his new deal.

While he was there, Rome also asked Johnson about the hottest story of the day, the Saints bounties. And Johnson called them "stupid" and "ridiculous," and think it goes against what NFL players work for in the first place.

"I think it's stupid," Johnson told Rome. "I don't understand why other players do that or even participate in something like that. We got in this league through blood, sweat and tears. We grinded our way to get in the position we're in and then you put out a bounty or a hit on somebody to injure them? I don't like it at all and I kind of get frustrated by it."

("ROME with Jim Rome" debuts on CBS Sports Network April 3rd. Follow Rome on Twitter @JimRome.)

Frankly, I couldn't agree more with Johnson. The NFL's a tough enough business without people purposely trying to injure players. When a defensive player blitzes a quarterback (or simply lines up to rush a quarterback), he's inherently already trying to do damage to that quarterback.

The idea that financial motivation is required for violent behavior is pretty sickening. Thankfully some players, like Johnson, aren't taking the "this happens everywhere" attitude towards bounties.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:38 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 1:04 pm
 

Bills, Stevie Johnson reach five-year deal

Johnson signs his new contract with Buffalo. (@RussBrandon, Twitter.com)
By Will Brinson

On Sunday night, the Bills and Stevie Johnson were "close" to wrapping up a five-year deal that would keep Johnson in Buffalo. On Monday morning, they closed whatever gap was missing, and the two sides agreed to a contract, the team announced.

Johnson's deal is reportedly worth $36.25 million with $19.5 million guaranteed. That's $7.25 million per year for Johnson, which is about right based on market value, and his projected performance.

Latest NFL News, Notes

"It’s a good day for us. Our football team got better," Bills GM Buddy Nix said at the team's press conference. "One of our philosophies coming in was that we wanted to try to keep our good players here, draft good, develop them and then try to keep them and we were able to do that with Stevie Johnson. It goes without saying what he’s done in the past two years and I think it’s just going to get better. Again, playing against guys that have been here and have gotten out, one of our main goals was to keep guys like him. It took a long time and probably was going to get done because Stevie said he always wanted to be here and we always said we wanted him."

Johnson was a seventh-round pick in 2008 out of Kentucky and didn't contribute much (12 catches) in his first two years. But he exploded on the scene in 2010, catching 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 2011, he was able to repeat his success, catching 76 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns. Johnson is clearly the most important weapon in the Bills passing game, even if he's a bit of a prankster sometimes.

"I want to thank Mr. Wilson for taking that chance on me four years ago coming out of Kentucky and using the 224th pick on me," Johnson said at his press conference. "I want to thank him a lot, and my teammates, the whole Buffalo Bills organization for standing behind me through everything. It’s a great feeling. It’s a blessing to be in this organization. This is where I want to be. Everybody knows that.

"I want to thank my teammates who have looked out for me, basically walking me through things, even the younger guys for looking up to me. That’s pretty amazing right there."

Johnson said he's "done" with end-zone celebrations (the Bills must believe him?), but don't expect his personality to change. Witness the one hitch in his contract negotiations, which apparently involved Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's hairstyle.

"If you get a Mohawk mullet with a beard and a design on the left side I'll sign TODAY! If you don't think everyone in the billsmafia you'll be letting down ... The ball is in your court!" Johnson claims to have texted to Fitzpatrick. "Don't be selfish!"

Fortunately, Fitz found a barbershop, so Stevie was willing to get paid:

Fitzy's got a new haircut to celebrate Stevie's return. (Twitter.com)

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Posted on: March 4, 2012 11:17 pm
 

Report: Johnson, Bills close to a five-year deal

Johnson will be happy to hear that he's on the verge of singing a five-year deal. (Getty Images)
By Josh Katzowitz

In the past few weeks, the Bills haven’t seemed totally interested in keeping No. 1 receiver Stevie Johnson in Buffalo. They said they wouldn’t franchise tag Johnson, probably because the organization doesn’t feel he’s worthy of a $9.4 million, one-year deal, and at times, it seemed as if the team might let him walk without getting anything back in return.

But apparently that’s not the case as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported late Sunday night that Johnson and the Bills are on the verge of finalizing a five-year contract that should be completed “in the next 24 hours.”

In our free agent wide receiver rankings, Johnson was in the No. 8 slot, and though he's topped 75 catches, 1,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in the past two seasons, he’s, at times, inconsistent and a celebration penalty-drawing nuisance.

So, you can understand why Buffalo might have been hesitant about signing him to a long-term deal.

For the record, however, Johnson plans on being more mature after catching touchdown passes from now on, saying he’s finished with scoring celebrations.

"But no matter what: I'm done with it,” Johnson said recently. “When I was doing my first couple seasons, I was just trying to be a relevant guy, you know? I think people are beginning to know who [No.] 13 is."

And now that Johnson is on the verge of signing his deal, it really is a Happy New Year for him after all.

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Posted on: February 24, 2012 5:11 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 1:29 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Wide receiver rankings

The 2012 free-agent wide receivers is a stacked group of players. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the wide receivers.

Everyone knows the NFL is a passing league these days and that you need an elite quarterback to succeed. But take a look at the teams who made the playoffs in 2011 and you might just realize that having talented wide receivers is a must too. (Just ask Eli Manning.)

Only the Ravens, 49ers and Broncos bucked the trend, and there are mitigating circumstances. Each of those teams is run-heavy, and each of those teams has burned an early-round pick on a wideout -- Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree and Demaryius Thomas, respectively -- in the last three years. So it’s not like they’re not trying here.

The need for wideouts was especially glaring amongst the NFL’s dregs: the Jaguars, Rams, Browns, Vikings, Redskins and Buccaneers all have something on common besides their terrible records.

Good news, then, for those teams -- this free-agent class is absolutely stacked with talented wideouts. A good portion of them could be franchise-tagged, but the guys who make it to the market are going to get straight paid.

1. Wes Welker

Breakdown: Welker’s considered the perfect fit for the Patriots, and it’s hard to argue: his numbers working in New England’s system since 2007 are absolutely bananas. 111 catches, 1,221 yards and six touchdowns ... on average. “The Patriot Way” might mean one thing on the field and at press conferences, but in the front office it means not over-paying for veterans who want too much money. That’s what Welker is right now, as he’s reportedly seeking $14-15 million per year, more than the Pats have probably invested in all their wideouts in a long time. Franchise-tagging Welker has “hold-out” written all over it, and there’s a common belief that Bill Belichick will call Welker’s bluff and let him test the market.
Potential Landing Spots: Patriots, Jets, Rams, Bears

2. Mike Wallace

Breakdown: Wallace is a restricted free agent and what happens to him this offseason is one of the more fascinating storylines to emerge from the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. If the Steelers simply tender Wallace at their non-franchise-tag max, a team in need of a deep threat could negotiate a deal with Wallace. Pittsburgh would have the right to match, but they’re in a major cap quagmire right now; if the team offering Wallace the contract simply front-loaded the deal, it would be nearly impossible for the Steelers to retain him.

They’d get a first-round pick in return, and you can bet Kevin Colbert will turn it into something nice. But there’s no better way to hurt your competition than by taking one its best players. Good news emerged for the Steelers on Thursday, as they restructured Ben Roethlisberger's contract and may have gotten under the cap. Now they just need to whack another $10 million off their total and Wallace, who is just 25 and has averaged 66 catches, 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns the past two seasons, can "finish his career" in Pittsburgh.
Potential Landing Spots: Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, Bears

3. Marques Colston

Breakdown: Colston’s the rare player who re-negotiated his rookie contract after just two years. But that’s what happens when you crank out back-to-back seasons with more than 1,000 yards and establish yourself as Drew Brees’ top target. Colston’s no longer the true No. 1 option in New Orleans -- Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles were more involved in the passing game in 2011 -- but he’s got the tools of an elite wide receiver. And at age 28 and as the only guy not sweating a franchise tag, he’s going to get paid like one too.
Potential Landing Spots: Bears, Rams, 49ers

4. Dwayne Bowe

Breakdown: Bowe was a 50/50 shot to make it to the market, because the Chiefs also needed to retain cornerback Brandon Carr. But then KC landed Stanford Routt after the defensive back was discarded by the Raiders. That gives the Chiefs some flexibility with Bowe; they can franchise tag him and try to re-sign Carr later. Bowe’s a hulking presence on the field and a physical receiver capable of acrobatic and explosive plays.

Somehow he’s broken out twice in his short career (no, really, he has, even though he's just 27), and it’s scary to think what he could do in a high-octane offense with an elite quarterback. Don’t expect him to hit the market just yet though; the Chiefs can't afford to lose him in what should be a rebound year for KC's offense. He's well worth the $9.4 million.
Potential Landing Spots: Chiefs

5. Vincent Jackson

Breakdown: The Bolts reportedly want to pay V-Jax and keep him in San Diego long term. Which is a fantastic sentiment, but one that’s too tardy to get Jackson to take a deal that doesn’t max out his value. Because he was franchised in 2011, his franchise-tag salary for 2012 would be prohibitive. There’s some concern with his off-field history; Jackson's got a pair of DUI arrests on his record. But if A.J. Smith can’t lock him up between now and March 13, he’s going to make a boatload.
Potential Landing Spots: Bears, Chargers, Jaguars, 49ers, Rams

6. DeSean Jackson

Breakdown: The Eagles are expected to use the franchise tag on D-Jax, but there’s also a possibility that they’ll look to deal him elsewhere after locking him into that tag, which means another team would likely shell out an extension for the oftentimes troubling wideout. Howie Roseman said at the combine that the Eagles want to work something out long term with the receiver.

Jackson’s a home-run hitter and one of the most explosive receivers in the game, but he also feels like a powder keg at times. He’s held out from Eagles camp, he’s talked openly about wanting more money, he’s been vulnerable to injury and he’s been accused of not trying his hardest on the field at times. Will that change if he gets a big contract?
Potential Landing Spots: Eagles, Redskins, Bears

7. Brandon Lloyd

Breakdown: It’s considered a near lock that Lloyd will figure out a way to land with in New England; he’s hitched his wagon to new Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. There’s good reason for that: McD is the guy who turned him into a Pro Bowler in Denver and salvaged his career. Lloyd would fit what the Patriots need well, as a wide receiver not named Ochocinco who can actually still stretch the field. But don’t count out the Rams -- Lloyd told us at the Super Bowl that with a new coaching staff in town, he’s certainly interested in sticking around and helping Sam Bradford grow.

There are some concerns with Lloyd. He's older (he'll turn 31 in July), the majority of his success came while working directly with Josh McDaniels. And there's Lloyd's 45.5 percent catch rate (according to Pro Football Focus, that's the fourth-lowest among wideouts who played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps), which could be alarming. But you could also point to the quarterbacks -- Tim Tebow, Kyle Orton, a dinged-up Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens and A.J. Feeley, as the problem there.
Potential Landing Spots: Patriots, Rams

8. Stevie Johnson

Breakdown: It’s hard not to be fascinated by Johnson. A seventh-round pick out of Kentucky, Johnson came on strong during the 2010 season, catching 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. He repeated the feat in 2011, posting similar, albeit slightly depressed numbers. But it’s also hard not to be frustrated by Johnson. He cost his team a pair of wins -- against the Steelers in 2010 and the Jets in 2011 -- thanks to dropped passes that came after aggressive touchdown celebrations (the drop against Pittsburgh was the week after his "Why So Serious?" shot at Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens).

Johnson says he’s done with those now, but the only way he’s going to get elite money ($8 million per year range) is if someone actually believes him. The one thing no one's talking about with Johnson, though, is his ability to put up big numbers against all-world Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. In four games against the Jets over the past two years, Johnson's piled up 19 catches for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His final performance against Revis in 2011 -- eight catches for 75 yards and a teeter -- should especially have, as Mike Freeman wrote in November, fellow AFC East coaches curious
Potential Landing Spots: Bills, Bengals, Rams, Jaguars, 49ers

9. Reggie Wayne

Breakdown: Lost in the whole Peyton Manning shuffle is the way that the Colts appear to be discarding Wayne, one of the organization’s all-time great receivers. Wayne grew up under Marvin Harrison, honed his craft with Manning and turned into one of the best receivers in the NFL. He’s clearly lost a step at this point, but if a team wants a veteran who can lead in the clubhouse and on the field, or simply someone who runs ridiculous precise crafts and works his tail off to prepare, Wayne’s going to be a fantastic addition. Belichick’s openly stated his admiration for Wayne, so New England’s not out of the question. He could also simply heading wherever Manning lands.
Potential Landing Spots: Patriots, Dolphins, Redskins, Cardinals, Jets

Honorable Mention: Laurent Robinson, Robert Meachem, Mario Manningham, Eddie Royal, Jerome Simpson, Pierre Garcon

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Posted on: February 24, 2012 1:45 am
 

2012 NFL Combine Day 1: Winners and losers

Whatever you say, Mr. Ryan. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

INDIANAPOLIS -- Forgive us for not primarily focusing on draft-related players in this edition of knee-jerk judgments. But on the first day of the NFL combine, there were relatively few players of note to talk to; none of the interior linemen made appearances with the media, there were some lonely kickers and punters present, and not all of the tight ends showed up.

Most of the media sessions were spent chatting up various general manages and coaches, every single one of whom was asked about Peyton Manning and/or Andrew Luck. Or their own quarterback.

Winners

Andrew Luck: Luck isn't even in Indianapolis yet (that we know of) and he's already getting swooned over, as Mike Freeman wrote earlier on Thursday. The only flaw that people can find is his arm strength, and even that's a stretch. More good news is that his former coach, Jim Harbaugh, thinks he'll handle the pressure of all the expectations surrounding him just fine. Don't expect the hypemobile to drop speed between now and late April.

St. Louis Rams
: On Thursday night, we told a St. Louis radio station that Jeff Fisher would be sitting back and smoking a cigar by the time Robert Griffin III finished running his 40-yard dash. That's because Fisher and the Rams will be holding an auction for Griffin, the clear-cut, second-best (if second ...) quarterback in the draft. Everyone in Indy's glowing about the kid and he hasn't arrived yet either. And everyone interested should get involved. If the Browns, Dolphins and Redskins don't get involved, they're doing themselves a disservice, because RG3 is going to good in the NFL. Make the move, pay the picks and reap the benefits. Fisher's willing to do just that.

Green Bay Packers: There seems to be a lot of speculation about teams wanting Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn around Indy right now. (The Browns, Dolphins and Seahawks could all be interested parties.) Now that Green Bay's locked up Jermichael Finley for two more years, they can, if they want, apply the franchise tag to Flynn and then trade him for the best offer they get from one of the interested teams. As long as they get more than whatever the compensatory pick would be, they win in this deal.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Shortly after Kevin Colbert stated that he wanted wide receiver Mike Wallace to retire as a Steeler, Pittsburgh managed to restructure Ben Roethlisberger's contract. Making Ben more expensive in the future might not help in the future, but it means right now the Steelers can keep Mike Wallace. The No. 1 wideout in Pittsburgh's gotten flak as the heat's cranked up on the possibility of him leaving, but the fact remains that he's the team's best wideout. Antonio Brown is a stud -- the only guy who we know that loves Brown more than we do is fantasy expert Dave Richard -- and he'll keep improving. But Brown doesn't become team MVP without Wallace keeping top cornerbacks away from his side of the field.

LaRon Landry: Holy muscles, Batman. Did he hijack Ryan Braun's FedEx package or something? We kid, we kid. (But no, seriously: we're joking.) On the first day of young football playing fellas flexing their muscles for the public, Landry stole the show with his ripped Twitter pics.

Losers

Jonathan Martin: Forgive us for not loving everyone out of Stanford, or for not giving Martin credit for having confidence. But the athletic offensive tackle won't be participating in most of the drills at the combine, because of food poisoning. (We asked him what he ate, and he didn't remember, but said it was in Arizona. Fear not, consumers of spicy shrimp cocktails.) Martin also repeatedly said he's the best tackle available in the draft, and said "without a doubt" he's better than Matt Kalil. Competition is fun, and confidence is good, but we're not sure why he's talking a big game if he's not participating in the drills.

Mark Sanchez: As Clark Judge noted, "Sanchez should be worried." That's because Rex Ryan came out and made no bold guarantees (a staple of the combine for Ryan) regarding the job security of his starting quarterback. It's OK for Rex to downplay the interest the Jets could have in Peyton Manning; Manning's not a free agent yet, and there are roughly 25 NFL teams that will at least discuss what Manning could do to their franchise. But the lack of guarantees for Sanchez during a tumultuous offseason should be concerning for the Jets current starting quarterback.

Kevin Kolb: Like Sanchez, Kolb didn't exactly get ringing endorsements from the guys who cut his checks. Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves didn't explicitly say they'd think about dumping Kolb (due a roster bonus on March 17) if Manning became available, but they sure didn't slam the door on the idea. 

Tight Ends: This is the new position that's redefining the NFL, right? Well, um, here's the problem (as also noted by CBSSports.com's own Pete Prisco): where were these guys during their big combine day? Rob Gronkowski was the story during the Super Bowl, and for a week after. Jimmy Graham shattered records. Vernon Davis was the guy who made Alex Smith great. And Orson Charles, the third-rated tight end by NFLDraftScout.com, said he's happy to sit and learn behind someone like Tony Gonzalez?Love the attitude. Love it, and Gonzo's the man. But if you're a coming into college and someone tries to steer you away from playing tight end in college, don't listen to them. Or listen to them and stop playing basketball?

Stevie Johnson: We've thought he'd get the franchise tag from Buffalo at minimum. But in listening to Bills head coach Chan Gailey, that's just not happening. Or it might; but Gailey's description of Johnson was quintessential "we're sorry to lose Stevie." He said he wouldn't miss Stevie until Stevie was gone and then cited the "business" of the game. Those aren't the words of a coach who's pumped to be celebrating a new contract for his franchise wideout.

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Posted on: February 21, 2012 10:04 am
Edited on: February 21, 2012 11:08 am
 

Report: Bills won't franchise tag Stevie Johnson

Johnson could be a free man if he and Buffalo don't work out a deal. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Stevie Johnson's an interesting test case for the wide-receiver market in 2011; he and the Bills are reportedly exchanging numbers, but they're also reportedly "far apart" in contract negotiations.

Latest NFL News, Notes

And now, the Bills reportedly won't be using the franchise tag on Johnson if they can't reach a long-term deal before March 5. That's according to Rodney McKissic of The Buffalo News, who reports that the "franchise tag option hasn't been discussed during negotiations" between the team and Johnson.

As we noted previously, Johnson's in a weird spot when it comes to his market value. $9.4 million -- the guaranteed money involved in the franchise tag -- seems like too much for Johnson. But he's certainly not a $5 million per year wide receiver.

And much of what he could get on the open market depends on how other situations play out. If, hypothetically, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne and Wes Welker (to name just a few) all hit the market along with Johnson, his stock will drop faster than a potential game-winning catch against the Jets.

Then there's the fact that the Bills would hurt themselves in negotiations if they discussed the franchise tag. Should Johnson's camp believe the tag is an option, it a) reduces the rush to get a deal done before March 5 and b) means the Bills are automatically negotiating from a bare minimum of $9.5 million in guaranteed money.

The only surprising thing is that Buffalo is apparently willing to let their biggest playmaker in the passing game walk; without Johnson, the 6'5" David Nelson steps into the role as top playmaker, barring the Bills being able to bring another high-end free agent into Buffalo.

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Posted on: February 16, 2012 12:55 pm
 

Report: Bills, Stevie Johnson exchanging numbers

Johnson and Buffalo are reportedly talking contract. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

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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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com