Buffalo Rumblings Mailbag, 2/11: is Stevie Johnson overpaid?

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

In this week's Bills mailbag, we discuss Stevie Johnson's contract, the outlook for Kiko Alonso in a new defense, and what type of tight end Buffalo needs.

As a way to change things up a bit for this week's Buffalo Rumblings Mailbag, we took to Twitter (@BuffRumblings) to solicit Buffalo Bills questions for today's post. Don't worry: if you sent a question via email (buffalorumblings@gmail.com), we still have it, and will select a few from the pool for next week's column. Please keep sending those questions in, as the inquiries have been excellent discussion-starters this winter.

On to this week's trio of questions!

First, a quick review: Stevie Johnson, who was scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency after his second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season prior to the start of the 2012 league year, signed a five-year, $36.25 million contract with $18.05 million guaranteed. At the time, Johnson was one of the team's most productive players, and was also arguably its most marketable - he still very well may be - and the contract reflected that, even while it didn't pay him in the same neighborhood as the game's elite receivers.

Johnson's contract has come back into focus this winter, and will remain there for the next month or two, because his cap hit rises from $5.65 million in 2013 to $8.5 million this year, and it'll stay in that neighborhood for the remaining three years (including 2014) of the deal. Buffalo may very well take a big, athletic receiver in this year's draft to line up outside and complement Robert Woods. Johnson was largely confined to the slot in his first season under Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett, and with Marquise Goodwin a major factor in the team's future plans, there's a sense that Johnson may soon be marginalized in the offense, particularly if that receiver is added.

But to answer the question (which, by the way, comes from Brad Wells of Stampede Blue, SB Nation's Colts blog): no, Johnson wasn't overpaid. He was never an elite receiver, and the contract reflects that; he is also a very productive receiver capable of beating the game's best cornerbacks where others can't, and the deal also reflects that. Buffalo can and should take a hard look at where Johnson - who is still just 27 years old - fits into their long-term plans, but it's tough to envision him not returning to form if the team gets better quarterback play next year.

NFL observers, from fans to reporters, are too often caught up in the rhetorical trappings of trying to understand a defense. The spirit of this question isn't about where Kiko Alonso will line up, but how the team plans to feature him as their go-to, every-down linebacker in the defense.

You will probably recall that Alonso, though he did manage to play every snap in his rookie season, was listed on the injury report a couple of times late in the season with a knee injury. The Bills know that Alonso, who is excellent in coverage, needs to stay as close to 100 percent for a full season to maximize his playmaking abilities on the field. What that ultimately means is that the team may try to find another linebacker to take on some of the punishment at the point of attack that Alonso endured last season. One way to interpret that is to say that the Bills will be playing Alonso more on the weak side, where he'll be free of traffic more often.

But this is the NFL. They can't just park Alonso in one spot and call it a day, or teams will figure out what the defense is trying to accomplish too easily and adjust. In an ideal world, you'll see Alonso play several places in multiple alignments. That way, they can free him up as much as possible without sacrificing the disguise and unpredictability of their defense.

Thanks for the question, Joe!

The simple explanation is that the Bills are in such dire need of impact talent at the position that pretty much any of this year's best tight end prospects, regardless of their exact skill sets, are significant upgrades over the talent already on hand. Eric Ebron is the type of dynamic athlete that the team has never had at the position with any longevity. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a big-bodied athlete with above average blocking skills and a very large catch radius. Amaro is a "move" tight end that can be split out and used as a slot receiving option, or out of the backfield, with excellent athleticism. Troy Niklas is a bit raw, but has a well-rounded skill set and looks like a potential plug-and-play starter. They're all different, and they're all much better long-term starting options than Scott Chandler.

Thanks for the question, Sam!

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