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Big money, big responsibility

In the end, the Bills made a fair deal with Stevie Johnson. According to an ESPN report, Johnson's new contract is for five years and $36.25 million, with $19 million guaranteed. That comes out to $7.25 million a season, about $2.25 million less than the franchise tag figure for wide receivers.

Back in December, I suggested that six years, $45 million would be a good price for Johnson. That figured out to $7.5 million a year. Johnson might have gotten an offer in that range or higher if he'd tested the free-agent market. But he decided to stay in Buffalo. That will go over very well with Buffalo fans, who love any athlete who chooses to stay rather than flee for a more exotic locale.

"He is such a loyal, good-hearted guy," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. "I'm not saying he signed here because he has a good heart, but his loyalty really shows through in this signing. I know other teams would be interested in paying him big money. He wanted to stay here, he really did. He always said that, and he backed up it."

But with big money comes big responsibility. When Johnson got his second demonstration penalty in the season finale, I was done with him. I couldn't believe he would even consider a touchdown celebration after embarrassing himself nationally a month before against the Jets. He didn't seem to have learned from his mistakes and I questioned the wisdom of making a huge investment in the guy.

Well, now it's time for Stevie to grow up. The standard of performance has been raised -- on the field and in his personal behavior. I'm not saying he should change his genuinely flashy personality. But he needs to be a leader and a mature member of his team. It's time for the Bills to stop coddling him and hold him to a higher standard. I hope they put a clause in the deal that will discourage any foolish celebrations in the future.

Johnson will have enough pressure trying to justify this deal on the field. He's being paid as a top receiver now. He's no longer some cuddly overachiever. Critics will expect him to produce on a consistent basis. The Bills have made a big investment. They're showing they trust him to keep improving. Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey wanted him here so the offense could take the next step and be a top NFL offense.

The Bills need more big plays out of Stevie, more 100-yard games (he had just one last season). He's a rich man. Let's hope it doesn't go to his head. Until he proves otherwise, the questions about his head will be there. It's a fair deal for both sides. Now it's up to Stevie to make it look like a bargain.

 

Fitz "Ecstatic"

Ryan Fitzpatrick said he was "ecstatic" to hear that Stevie Johnson had signed a new five-year contract with the Bills. In fact, the Bills' quarterback went to extraordinary lengths to make sure his favorite receiver remained in Buffalo. Fitz actually shaved his head in a show of support.

Reached by phone at his home in Arizona this morning, Fitzpatrick confirmed that he had shaved his head into a Mohawk and added a message on the side of his head.

"I just sent him a picture," Fitz said just after the Bills officially announced Stevie's new deal. "I'm sure you'll see it on-line. Basically, I said, 'Stevie, I don't want to have to beg.' He said, 'Fitz, all you got to do is shave a design on the left side of your head and grow a Mohawk mullet, I shaved my hair into a Mohawk this morning.

"It's hard to see because my hair wasn't that long," Fitz said. "The worst thing was I had to cut in a design on my head. I put 'He's back' and some weird design. Actually, my wife Liza did it. You know Stevie, he's got such a flair for the dramatic."

Of course, it's Johnson's ability as a receiver that matters most to Fitzpatrick. They've developed a strong relationship during the past two seasons and become one of the top QB-receiver combos in the NFL. Fitzpatrick said it was vital for the Bills' offense to maintain that continuity.

"This is huge for us as a team moving forward," Fitz said. "Stevie is a guy who over the last two years has proven that he can become an elite receiver in this league, and he has the will and the drive to do it. He certainly has the talent, I think he and I have a unique relationship on and off the field.

"I have a great understanding of what he wants to do and what he's good at, and he has a great understanding of my strenghts and how to communicate with me. It's going to be great for us to get a chance to work together for years to come. I couldn't be happier for Stevie. He's worked so hard to get to where he is. It's a great day for the Bills as well."

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