Taron Johnson leads Bills in performance-based pay

He won't see the extra money until at least 2024, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
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No Buffalo Bills fan will forget the sight of nickel cornerback Taron Johnson returning an interception 101 yards for a touchdown to punctuate his team's 17-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens in last January's divisional-round playoff game.

For that and the way he generally delivered as their third cornerback and part-time starter in 2020, Johnson led the team with $578,749 in performance-based pay that all NFL players are eligible to receive after each season.

Alas, due to an agreement the NFL made with the players union as a result of the salary cap unexpectedly dropping, the players won't see those funds until 2024 or beyond.

Nevertheless, it's a nice windfall he can count on down the road after coming through with career highs in tackles (94), tackles for losses (5), pass breakups (7), and quarterback hits (3). Johnson also returned his lone regular-season interception of 2020 for a touchdown.

That's two interceptions, two touchdowns, if you're keeping score at home.

The 2020 season also saw the Bills rely more on the third-year player for special-teams contributions than during his first two seasons combined. 

Johnson played 165 special-teams snaps after playing 60 in his first year and 67 in his second.

Interestingly, quarterback Josh Allen finished closer to the bottom of the Bills' list than the top for performance pay despite a breakout season in which he passed for 4,544 yards and 37 TDs and finished second in the league's MVP voting. Allen will receive just $119,907 extra.

The figures for all players were released Tuesday by the NFL Players Association.

Wide receiver Gabriel Davis ($482,310), guard Ike Boettger ($466,609) and cornerback Levi Wallace ($441,624) were Nos. 2-4 on the Bills list, each earning nearly half a million more than what their contracts called for them to receive in 2020.

It's a good thing for the Bills that they don't have to make the extra payments, which total $8.5 million, this year, because according to figures also updated by the NFLPA on Tuesday, they're also just $5.6 million under the salary cap. That's not a lot of flexibility, especially if they want to get Allen re-signed before the 2022 offseason.

General manager Brandon Beane has stated that's a goal and plans to start negotiations after the NFL Draft.

A rookie fourth-round pick, Davis averaged 17.1 yards on 35 catches, which produced seven touchdowns. His play gave them enough confidence to release more established deep threat John Brown and clear nearly $8 million in cap space.

Boettger was developed for two seasons and part of a third before injuries forced the Bills to thust him into action as a starter midway through the 2020 season. He played more than well enough to earn a $2.1 million contract tender as a restricted free agent. So he's locked in for another year and possibly many more after that if he can reach an agreement with the team on an extension.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro.