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Stevie Johnson's new deal sets up wide receiver market

Stevie Johnson's new deal removes one of the biggest names from the free agent wide receiver market. (Getty Images)

So you're wondering how much it would cost your favorite team to land wide receivers Marques Colston or Vincent Jackson, should they reach free agency? Well, you can probably set the bar at $7.25 million per year, plus $19.5 million guaranteed, and go from there.

Those are the numbers attached to Stevie Johnson's new contract in Buffalo, signed on Monday to avoid any franchise tag possibility. With that, the potentially loaded wide receiver class of free agents lost another member. Both Johnson and DeSean Jackson (franchised by Philadelphia) have come off the board, and it's possible that Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Colston, Jackson, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd could as well.

If that doesn't drive up the price for those receivers that do hit free agency on March 13, then Johnson's contract ought to do so.

Johnson has been the Bills' top receiver for the past two years, averaging 79 catches and 1,039 yards. He's also been a distraction at times, like when his touchdown celebration mocking Plaxico Burress cost Buffalo 15 yards in a game against the Jets and led to Johnson being benched late.

It would be hard, too, for any team to justify paying Colston or Jackson less than Johnson's $36.25 million deal, given that both players are coming off more productive seasons than their Buffalo counterpart -- both Colston and Jackson topped 1,100 yards receiving (compared to 1,004 for Johnson), and each had more touchdowns (nine for Jackson, eight for Colston, seven for Johnson).

You'd be hard-pressed to find many general managers around the league who would prefer Johnson over either Colston or Jackson, even when considering the argument that Colston's a product of the Saints' system and Jackson has had his own off-field issues.

It is possible that Johnson's re-signing will make it easier for New Orleans and San Diego, respectively, to deal with its top free agent wide receiver. If nothing else, the Bills' movement has given those teams a pricing guideline.

We'll also have to wait and see if this changes, at all, the Mike Wallace situation in Pittsburgh. Since Wallace is a restricted free agent, he won't hit the open market. But with each possible free agent WR target who stays home, there are fewer and fewer options for those teams hoping to make a splash at the position. If Colston and Jackson (plus possible tag candidates Bowe and Welker) wind up back with their teams, who's left?

While there would still be some attractive possibilities -- Lloyd, Reggie Wayne and Mario Manningham, to name a few -- the number of game-breaking receivers out there would be minimal.

But Buffalo got a jump on the game by keeping Johnson around and doing so without coughing up a franchise tag. The effects of that success could have a lingering impact when free agency opens next week.
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