The Buffalo Bills have agreed to terms today with unrestricted free agent wide receiver Stevie Johnson on a new five-year, $36.25 million contract with $19.5 million guaranteed, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. With that contract now in place, we now have a solid starting point for what Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace will be expecting as far as his new deal goes.
The average year breakdown of the Johnson contract, which is very dangerous to use as a measuring stick until the full structure is released, comes to $7.25 million. In his first four seasons in the league, Johnson has totaled 170 catches for 2,189 yards to go along with 19 touchdowns. He also has comes with a pain in the ass number of 8 out of a possible 10. (That is not a stat kept by the NFL by the way.) Wallace on the other hand has compiled 171 catches for 3,206 yards to go along with 24 touchdowns in just three seasons in the league. His pain in the ass number is 1 or less. (Once again not a stat kept by the NFL.) Wallace also has a career yards per catch of 18.7 compared to 12.9 for Johnson. There is no doubt which receiver is better.
I posted back in the late part of February that I thought a new contract for Wallace would come in at about a $7.25 year average, but now we know it will be higher than that and will likely now come in closer to my original prediction of around $9 million a season. So that should be the range now that Wallace and his agent will be looking for. The big squabble now that we have a more solid range to work with is just how much of the contract is officially guaranteed and how it will be structured.
As Schefter said in his tweet, Johnson gets $19.5 million guaranteed and over $24 million in the deal\’s first three years. Not knowing the real numbers or structure, I could guess that the signing bonus was around $18 million and the first year base salary is $1.5 million. (Only a shot in the dark) That would make his 2012 cap hit around $5.1 million. That sounds about right, but could of course be a little bit lower if the base was less and the signing bonus was a little more.
Omar Khan and the Steelers like to structure a few of these new deals of late with second year roster bonuses in lieu of full signing bonuses. That means instead of the money being part of the guaranteed signing bonus, it is nearly guaranteed as long as the player is on the roster in year two. We saw this done most recently with the new contracts of LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons and I bet that Khan is trying to do this as well with Wallace and his agent Bus Cook. It makes the first year cap hit easier to swallow and gives wiggle room in the second year of being able to turn that roster bonus and a portion of the second year base salary into a signing bonus in a basic restructure to free up more cap room in the second year if needed.
I still like the chances of the Steelers getting a deal done with Wallace by the start of free agency and having the Johnson deal now in place could help the negotiations. Time as they say will tell as we have just about a week to go before free agency begins. In the mean time though, we can expect that Wallace will wear the first round tender of $2.7 million or so at the minimum.