One piece of the Bills’ offense has been given his long-term respect in monetary form. The other two are still waiting.
A contract extension for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been rumored for weeks, and it was reportedly completed today. The 28-year-old will now remain in Buffalo for the next six years, earning a total paycheck of $59 million, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. Mort also reported that Fitzpatrick will receive $24 million in guaranteed money, and $33 million over the first three years.
The contract’s value is fair for a quarterback who has played a major role in Buffalo’s resurgence, and who helped the Bills to maintain some degree of respectability despite a 4-12 record last season by orchestrating late-game drives that led to seven games with a point differential of three or less. While at first it may seem like the Bills overpaid slightly for a quarterback who was still battling Trent friggin Edwards for playing time last August, consider how much the market for second-tier quarterback contracts was inflated thanks for Kevin Kolb earlier this summer.
Kolb is now floundering in Arizona after being signed to a six-year, $65 million contract, $21.5 million of which is guaranteed. That deal gave Fitzpatrick leverage, and further bargaining power was likely drawn from Matt Cassel’s contract, the Chiefs QB who signed a $63 million deal two years ago. With Fred Jackson thriving there’s a caretaker element to Fitzpatrick’s game, but that doesn’t nearly meet Cassel’s position in the same role. Fitzpatrick’s deal falls just below those two, which feels directly in line with his current play, but is still cautious enough to be wary of his quick uprising.
The lingering question now for the Bills’ front office is what will happen with Jackson and Stevie Johnson, the team’s remaining core players who are both due for a raise. Johnson is set to hit the open market, and Jackson is playing well above his $1.75 million base salary this year with his 601 rushing yards through seven games.
In late September reports surfaced that the gap between Johnson and the Bills’ brass is about $2 million. Meanwhile, Jackson is annoyed, and he should be. The Bills entered free agency late in July roughly $38 million under the salary cap, and have since signed Fitzpatrick and defensive tackle Kyle Williams to extensions. What’s holding back Jackson’s pay day is his age (30), and the presence of a far younger C.J. Spiller on the depth chart.
Jackson still has one year left on his current deal, and is a prime candidate for a training camp holdout next summer. Even with Jackson’s elite production, Spiller–who has just a meager 15 carries this year–will still limit his pay day, with the Bills stubbornly hoping to avoid wasting another draft pick.
Johnson, however, is a much different matter, and at the ripe age of 25 he had the typical third-year wide receiver breakout in 2010, and has since grown to become the team’s primary deep threat. The franchise tag is the likely conclusion to Johnson’s stalemate with the Buffalo brass, but that will tie up about $10 million, an investment that could restrict the pursuit of free agents to help other glaring areas of need, like a brutal pass rush that’s put opposing quarterbacks on the ground just four times this year.