Bills WR Johnson ponders future after talks end
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - Stevie Johnson could be down to playing his final games with the Buffalo Bills after contract talks broke off a few weeks ago.
Though the team's top receiver - and most colorful player - would prefer re-signing with the Bills, Johnson is now left pondering the future after the team rejected his last offer.
Based on how negotiations ended, Johnson said the ball is essentially in the Bills' court because there's no reason for him to re-open talks before he's eligible to become a free agent this offseason.
"We tried to do our negotiating and it was turned down,'' Johnson said Wednesday. "I want to just ride it out and see what happens.''
He wouldn't divulge what his asking price was, but told The Associated Press that it averaged out to less than $9 million a season - putting him in the mid-range of the league's No. 1 receivers.
The Bills have a policy against commenting on the status of contract talks.
Buffalo (5-8) has lost six straight and has been knocked out of playoff contention in preparing to host Miami (4-9) on Sunday.
It's unclear how far apart the two sides are, but Johnson isn't willing to consider the Bills' last offer even if it means leaving a team and in a town he's grown to love.
"It is what it is. We know it's a business,'' he said. "We'll see what they do. They've got a plan upstairs to maybe make some moves and bring me back later. We'll just see how that plays out.''
In saying, "I want to be here, period,'' Johnson suggested there's a possibility the Bills could use their franchise tag to retain his rights for at least one more season.
Though it's a possibility, it's an unlikely option given the tag - based on an average of the top-paid players at his position - would commit the Bills to paying Johnson in the range of a $10 million salary next season unless the two sides worked out a new deal.
Johnson leads Buffalo with 63 catches and 790 yards, and is tied for the team lead with six touchdowns. And he's continuing to produce this year despite playing on a banged-up offense that's missing numerous regulars, and despite the team lacking a proven No. 2 threat to draw away coverage.
Selected in the seventh round of the 2008 draft out of Kentucky, Johnson was used sparingly before enjoying a breakout season last year.
In supplanting veteran Lee Evans as the Bills top threat, Johnson had a team-leading 82 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Bills had such confidence in Johnson this offseason, that they traded Evans to Baltimore in August.
Johnson was also among the colorful personalities that attracted national attention to the Bills during their 5-2 start.
And yet he has also opened himself to criticism.
That was evident in a 28-24 loss at the New York Jets last month when Johnson was flagged - and later fined $10,000 by the NFL - for a questionable touchdown celebration. He then compounded his troubles by having a pass bounce off his hands while he was wide open over the middle at the Jets 20-yard line in the final minute.
The penalty and drop spoiled what was an otherwise solid day in which Johnson had eight catches for 75 yards and a score against one of the NFL's top cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis.
Johnson's shown resilience by playing through an assortment of injuries. His groin has bothered him since the start of the season. He's been playing with a sore left shoulder. And he hurt his left hand in a 37-10 loss to San Diego last week.
However things turn out, Johnson intends to remain patient, saying he can afford to wait.
"I've been broke all my life, so I ain't tripping,'' Johnson said.
NOTES: Coach Chan Gailey said WR Marcus Easley has been cleared to return next year after an undisclosed illness wiped out his second NFL season. ... TE Scott Chandler (ankle) and kicker Dave Rayner (groin) missed practice Wednesday. ... The Bills signed TE Kevin Brock to their practice squad, a week after he was released by Oakland. The Rutgers product fills the spot left open after Dallas signed Bills practice-squad member DB Mana Silva this week.
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