The Buffalo Bills have a good amount of money to spend in free agency this offseason, which does not include an optional $21 million they could choose to carry over from 2011. That doesn’t mean it should be spent on a receiver like Stevie Johnson.
Per a recent report, the Bills and Johnson are “far apart” in contract talks, which more than likely means Johnson is looking for money than the Bills are willing to give him.
The parties hope to speak at the scouting combine, but with free agency starting March 13th, time is running out.
Which brings up the question: How much is Johnson really worth, especially to a team that could upgrade a variety of more important positions? The Bills have a few of their own they would like to get under contract not named Johnson, most notably tackle Demetrius Bell and linebacker Kirk Morrison.
Johnson had a stellar season last year catching 76 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns. It was the second straight season he has hit 1,000 yards, and him being only 25 years old means that streak should continue.
Johnson has stated he would like to remain in Buffalo, which makes sense because he is treated like a No. 1 receiver there. On most other teams Johnson is a No. 2 at best. His immature antics are also a cause for concern.
The Bills have to take a step back at examine the market as a whole. Why break the bank on a guy like Johnson when you could get a proven player without the antics? Guys like Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston are all worth more money, better producers on the field and cause fewer headaches.
Even lesser names like Brandon Lloyd, Mario Manningham and Laurent Robinson could prove to be better weapons for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. This is one of the deepest wide receiver free-agent classes in recent memory, and the Bills are going to overpay for a like Stevie Johnson?
If Stevie is willing to take a fitting contract for how much he contributes then the Bills could possibly pursue a true No. 1 in free agency or the draft. Johnson would excel as a No. 2 receiver with defenses giving him less coverage in favor of a better player.
If the Bills are intent on having Johnson around in 2012 but he won’t agree to a sensible contract, then the Bills could utilize the franchise tag. The cost of tagging a receiver this offseason is steep—$9.6 million steep, to be exact.
While not an ideal option, it would give the Bills another year to work on a longer deal with Johnson, but it would hinder them from using almost $10 million to upgrade other areas.
The Bills are in a great position this offseason to continue upgrading a vastly underrated team. They have a franchise quarterback locked up long term, so the hardest part out of the way.
Smart drafting will go a long way to improving Buffalo’s fortunes, but smart free-agency decisions—such as not overpaying for an overrated player like Johnson—will ensure the Bills are competitive for years to come.