Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley was caught off guard by a line of questioning on Monday that dealt with wide receiver Stevie Johnson and his future with the organization.
"He's under contract, and we expect him to be here," Whaley said succinctly early in yesterday's year-end press conference.
Early in December, after Johnson fumbled away a late-game scoring opportunity in an overtime loss to Atlanta in Toronto, reporters began to openly wonder if Johnson - nearing the end of a tough 2013 campaign in which he missed two starts due to injury and saw his numbers drop considerably - had a place in the offense beyond the season. Articles like this and this were popping up, and with a $1.75 million roster bonus and a nearly $3 million hike in his cap figure forthcoming, the idea picked up considerable steam.
Whaley, evidently unaware of that rhetoric, told reporters that he was "amazed" that the idea of moving on from Johnson was even a topic of conversation.
"I was taken aback by the question," Whaley said. "I mean, we have him under contract, we expect him to be here. I was kind of amazed by why that would be a subject to ask."
Johnson signed a five-year, $36.25 million contract extension prior to the start of free agency in 2012, pocketing $18.05 million in guaranteed money in the process. He then went on to catch 79 passes for 1,046 yards and six touchdowns last season, but those numbers dipped dramatically (52-597-3) as he dealt with a new offense and a revolving door of young, inexperienced quarterbacks.
Then, of course, Johnson missed the last two games of the season as he dealt with the sudden passing of his mother. Whaley also noted on Monday that the team was behind Johnson "110 percent" as he spent the last two weeks of the season in California with family.
Buffalo has invested early-round draft picks in a trio of receivers over the past two years, and while T.J. Graham has yet to find his footing from a production standpoint, both Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin have shown flashes of long-term potential. Woods, in particular, seems to have by far the best chemistry with starting quarterback EJ Manuel. Couple that with the idea that the Bills could pursue another pass-catching option or two - preferably ones with size and a large catching radius - to help speed up Manuel's development, and trying to figure out where Johnson fits in becomes an interesting question to ponder.
It's a question that the Bills will apparently need to answer, because if you're wont to take Whaley at face value, Johnson will still be the team's most established receiving option entering the new year.