Niagara Gazette

Bills

February 20, 2012

AP Source: Bills 'far apart' in talks with Johnson

BUFFALO — Stevie Johnson and the Buffalo Bills are still "far apart" in contract talks. And the receiver doesn't expect the team to use its franchise tag to retain him, a person familiar with discussions told The Associated Press on Sunday.

The person spoke with The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because talks are ongoing.

The update on talks comes after the two sides exchanged offers last week, and agreed to meet at the NFL combine in Indianapolis this week.

Johnson has led the Bills in receiving in each of the past two seasons and is eligible to become a free agent next month.

The Bills have a policy against discussing contract talks. General manager Buddy Nix did say last month that he would like to re-sign Johnson.

Starting Monday, NFL teams can begin using a franchise tag to retain the rights of their prospective free agents.

Applying the tag would not prevent the Bills from continuing to negotiate a long-term contract with Johnson. However, if a deal is not reached, it would put the team in a position to have to pay the receiver about $9.4 million next season.

Such a contract would handcuff the Bills' payroll, and limit their ability to sign other free agents to improve a team that's not made the playoffs in 12 seasons — the NFL's longest active drought.

The Bills haven't used the tag since 2006, when they designated cornerback Nate Clements their franchise player. Clements signed the $7.2 million offer, under the condition the team would allow him to become a free agent the following season.

Johnson has not discussed how much he's seeking, except to say he's not asked the team to pay him $9 million or $10 million a season, which would put him in the upper echelon of NFL receivers.

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