Newly-signed Johnson looks to be 'legendary'

Johnson would have become a free agent at 4 p.m. EST Monday had the Bills not re-signed him or...

Johnson would have become a free agent at 4 p.m. EST Monday had the Bills not re-signed him or applied the franchise tag to him. (REUTERS/Doug Benz)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:04 PM ET

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson sent his quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, a text message shortly after agreeing to terms with the NFL club on a new five-year, $36.25-million deal.

"I told him, 'Let's be legendary now,'" Johnson said in a telephone interview, shortly after his Monday morning news conference in Buffalo to announce the deal.

Whoa. Legendary?

Isn't that a bit too lofty a goal for two guys who were seventh-round draft picks way back when? For two guys who, two years ago at this time, were backups in Buffalo -- Fitzpatrick to Checkdown Charlie (Trent Edwards), and Johnson to the guy who bolted to the Ravens last year to become Mr. "Oh, I Needed To Catch That To Get to The Super Bowl, Didn't I" (Lee Evans)?

Maybe so. But this much is clear ­-- the Bills couldn't just keep hitting the reset button on offence, as they'd been doing since Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed terrorized NFL defences in the early '90s.

Since then, the Bills, for the most part, have drafted atrociously or watched the few good players they did develop bolt to other teams as free agents. This is not lost on current Buffalo general manager Buddy Nix.

"You don't want to spend all that time with them, gettin' 'em goin' and then have to start over with somebody else," Nix told me, in his thick Alabama drawl.

How much do continuity, cohesion and chemistry matter in the NFL? More than you think, Fitzpatrick told me.

"It maybe gets overlooked at times, with all the big free-agent acquisitions and things," he said. "But to be able to play with the same guys, in the same system, really does help."

Fitzpatrick got that point across to Nix, who also consulted other Bills players about retaining Johnson.

"They all wanted to keep this thing going," Nix said of his 14th-ranked NFL offence. "These guys get a feel for each other, and it's something that takes a long time to do, and we didn't want to take a step back and start over."

That's why Fitzpatrick told me he was "fired up."

"Stevie and I have developed a great relationship, on and off the field, for the past few years," he said. "For years to come, we're going to be able to play together -- it's a great feeling.

"And it says a lot for the Bills organization, just for rewarding guys that perform in their system ... We made great strides in the last two years."

Fitzpatrick was re-signed to a six-year, $59-million deal last October. Had the Bills not re-signed Johnson on Monday, they would have had to apply the franchise tag to him, or risk losing him as an unrestricted free agent.

The fact a reported $19.5 million of his new contract is guaranteed wasn't the only reason Johnson was so happy Monday.

"I owe my career to them because they started it off," Johnson told me.

And he didn't just mean the club. He meant his teammates, too, guys like safety George Wilson, linebacker Kirk Morrison and fellow wideout Andra Davis.

"These guys backed me from the beginning," Johnson said. "I had to show love to them, because they taught me a lot ... They helped me mature, and help me be the player I am."

Johnson's loyalty to the Bills and his teammates should not be under-valued, Fitzpatrick said.

"I think it says a lot -- just because Stevie had a chance to go elsewhere. Stevie had a chance to wait until free agency opened and test the market, to see if he was going to get paid more elsewhere, which I'm sure there were a lot of teams interested in him.

"But he really likes what's going on in Buffalo, and I think we're a team that's heading in the right direction, and this move certainly shows that."

A legendary direction? Remains to be seen. But think of all the legendary NFL passing combos. Such as Bradshaw to Swan, Montana to Rice, Aikman to Irvin.

They all played together for years, didn't they?

johnkryk@sunmedia.ca

@JohnKryk

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