Orchard Park, NY -- As the end of the season draws near for the Buffalo Bills, it could also mark the end of tenure for a high-profile player currently presiding on their roster.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson is an unrestricted free agent as of 4 pm on March 13, the official start of the 2012 free agency period as announced by the NFL.
A source close to the situation told WGR that Stevie Johnson's asking price placed in to the Buffalo Bills during negotiations was an annual salary of $7.5 million. The source indicates that there have been no contract offers issued to Johnson from the Bills over the course of the past month.
The source also said that the Bills did not mention the idea of a franchise tag for the wide receiver at any point while the negotiations were still going on, or even since they have subsided.
In September, WGR Sports Radio 550 reported the two sides were $2 million per year apart when they were exchanging contract proposals at the beginning of the season.
When asked for comment, a spokesperson of the Bills would not comment, citing the team's policy of not making statements concerning contracts and their subsequent negotiations.
C.J. Laboy of Octagon Football, who represents Johnson, spoke with WGR's Sal Capaccio about the breakdown of talks between the two sides.
"We were approached to do a deal prior to the season starting," said Laboy. "When it became clear that the two sides were too far apart, we agreed that it would be best to shelve negotiations and allow Stevie to focus on the season. Stevie never wanted his contract status to be a distraction to him or his teammates. At that time, the Bills turned their focus on getting Ryan [Fitzpatrick]’s contract done, which they ultimately did. A week or so after Ryan’s deal was done, the Bills wanted to re-open negotiations, but when it quickly became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to get a deal done, Stevie decided that it was best to wait until the end of the year before talking about his contract again."
Since talks have broken off, and the closer Johnson has moved towards free agency, a lot of speculation has been made about exactly how much money Johnson is seeking to remain in Buffalo. Some have pegged the number to be upwards of $8 million and even up to $10 million. Laboy flatly denies that.
"Stevie was more than willing to do a discounted deal with the Bills because of his loyalty to the organization for giving him his chance in the NFL, his loyalty to his teammates, and his love for the city of Buffalo. Any reports of Stevie asking for 10, 9, or even 8 million dollars a year are completely false and misleading," said Laboy.
While Laboy would not divulge specific dollar amounts, a league source to Capaccio corroborates with the initial source that the Johnson camp proposals "never exceeded anything in the sevens (millions)."
That source tells Capaccio the deals the two sides had discussed were all spanning "four or five years."
Johnson is on the cusp of being the first Bills' receiver in franchise history to post back-to-back seasons that gain 1,000 receiving yards. He is just 36 yards away from the mark. Johnson is three receptions shy of being just the second Bills player to post 75 catches in consecutive seasons as well. Eric Moulds is the only other Bills player to do so.
Week 16 against the Broncos, Johnson became only the third Bills receiver to catch 70 passes in back-to-back seasons. Moulds and Andre Reed also have accomplished the feat.
On Wednesday, Johnson maintained hope that he would be back, despite the lack of recent negotiations. Since day one, he's maintained that he wants to be with the Buffalo Bills for many years to come.
"Yeah, most definitely. I do want to be here," he said. "I'm still very optimistic that I will be here in Buffalo even if I was to test out free agency and all that. What brings me back here is because of the guys with like Fitz, with coach Gailey."
"I think we've got a good core here. We went on a losing streak and everything, but I think we've got a good core here and I think we can only get better."
Laboy echoed his clients' comments.
"If you know Stevie, you know that he is one of the most passionate and vocal supporters of the Bills organization," he said. "He genuinely believes that the organization is heading in the right direction and with Coach Gailey at the helm and Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback that not only is Buffalo a great place to play, but that they can and will return to the glory years of the early 90s. Stevie believes he can be a big factor in the Bills return to glory."
Laboy declined comment when asked if they would still consider a discount, due to both sides not speaking about a new deal in over a month. Johnson's agent went on to say, however, that his client is still willing to make a deal with the Bills before he hits the open-market in free agency.
A separate agent that has a client on the Bills roster told Capaccio that he never directly dealt with General Manager Buddy Nix when it came to his client's contract. In fact, he said he dealt 100-percent with Jim Overdorf and that Nix "never involved himself in the negotiations." The level of Overdorf's involvement was also confirmed by another agent who used to have a client on the Bills roster prior to Nix taking over GM duties. "Jim has been their primary negotiator for as long as I have known," said the agent, speaking on condition of anonymity.
This is not unique in the NFL. Some General Managers prefer to deal only with the personnel side of the business, then along with ownership and the budget they are given, give directives to someone else in the front office, who then handles the monetary side of contract negotiations.
Laboy declined to comment on who in the Bills organization is handling the negotiations with him regarding Johnson's contract.
However, each one of these agents, including Laboy, did point out that the Bills have been very professional and all three had a lot of praise for the organization when speaking about dealing with them and their clients' negotiations. The two agents who have dealt with Overdorf specifically mentioned the terrific job they feel he does and his level of professionalism whenever they've dealt with him.
Johnson has 72 catches for 964 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. He made a base salary of $550,000 on the final year of his four-year rookie contract as a former seventh round pick.