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