- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix said during Monday's season-ending news conference that the team intends to keep No. 1 receiver Steve Johnson. That will be the biggest offseason story to watch in Buffalo.
The interest between Buffalo (6-10) and Johnson appears mutual. But the two sides cut off negotiations during the season because they were too far apart and will have to re-start talks before free agency begins in March.
Johnson caught 76 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns this past season. But his antics at times hurt the team and overshadowed his production. Reportedly Johnson is seeking upwards of $8 million per season. The Bills want to extend Johnson but at a salary they are more comfortable with.
"I think he would like to stay here, and he said that," Nix told reporters in Buffalo Monday. "If he was willing to hit the market, he would say he was willing to hit the market. Or if he wanted to go somewhere else, he would have said that. I take him at his word. He says he wants to be here. I think if we’re fair and it seems fair to him, I think we will get a deal done."
Here are some other news and notes from Nix:
One of the biggest things that stood out is Nix says Buffalo will be aggressive in free agency. The Bills have plenty of cap room and are notorious for not using it to sign big-money free agents. Nix says he believes the team is ready to take a big step next year and he will look to improve the team via free agency in addition to the draft. "We can spend the cap and we will," Nix said.
Nix also wants to extend running back Fred Jackson's contract before the start of the 2012 season. Buffalo told Jackson during the regular season that the team will take care of him. He is under contract for another year but was one of the NFL's most underpaid players, considering his production. Backup C.J. Spiller filled in well for Jackson, but it appears the Bills are committed to bringing Jackson back as the starter. "Fred and I have talked, and we want to extend Fred," Nix said. "I'd like for Fred to finish his career as a Bill. He's meant a lot to us and I have great respect for him."
Nix wasn't as stern about the return of outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. His status is up in the air after two consecutive season-ending Achilles injuries. Merriman is rehabbing, and Nix said if Merriman is healthy and can pass a physical, he would remain in Buffalo. Merriman also is under contract next season.
Finally, the Bills plan to stick to a 3-4 defense. There's been a lot of talk in Buffalo since the team fired former defensive coordinator George Edwards. Nix said the 3-4 is not as big an issue as people think. Buffalo's priority in the offseason, according to Nix, is to continue to add more players to fit the 3-4 scheme.
4dField Yates and Rich Cimini