Negotiations with Rob Johnson were likely to be a decisive factor in the Buffalo Bills' quarterback situation, and there remained a distinct possibility Doug Flutie could still win the job, National Football League sources reported today.
There still was no word from the Bills as of midday today on their decision, which was a clear indication they remained in negotiations over the issue.
The central question for the Bills appears to be: How much does Johnson want to be in Buffalo?
It's in the best interest of the Bills to extend the contract of the quarterback they keep.
Both Johnson and Flutie are signed through 2002. By extending the deal of the winner of the QB decision, the Bills would spread money out over three or four years instead of two and save cap space this year and in 2002.
Getting the QB to agree to an extension also would be the truest sign that the guy wants to play in Buffalo.
Johnson is scheduled to turn 28 on March 18. If he were to get cut this year, he's likely to get a large signing bonus from another team -- perhaps $7 million or $8 million.
If he adds a year onto his contract with the Bills, he won't get another chance at a signing bonus on the open market until he's 31 -- or 32 if the Bills wanted him to sign a two-year extension.
Flutie doesn't have a similar dilemma. Given his age, he wouldn't be giving up a chance at a big signing bonus on the open market after the 2002 season.
The Bills' struggle with their salary structure and their quarterback situation may last right up until the NFL's salary cap deadline at 4 p.m. Thursday.
The Bills still need to trim about $7.5 million of salaries off their payroll, according to News estimates, in order to get under the NFL cap of $67.4 million. But that didn't count about $4 million of space they eventually will need to sign their draft choices, and another $1 million they eventually may need to fill out their roster.
Flutie is scheduled to count $7.75 million against the Bills' cap this year. Johnson is set to count $8.29 million. That's $16 million for two quarterbacks.
The Bills would save more money by cutting Flutie than cutting Johnson ($3 million vs. $1.66 million). But when you figure in the amount saved in restructuring the QB that is kept, the difference might not be as great.
The Bills would save $2.5 million by doing a straight restructuring of Flutie's contract (that means to not extend it beyond 2002). They would save $1.66 million in a straight restructuring of Johnson's deal.
The likelihood if they keep Flutie is they will extend it for a third year and spread money out over three years instead of two, and perhaps save $3 million in 2001.
Johnson is scheduled to actually receive $4.65 million from the Bills this year. He's scheduled to get a base salary of $3.15 million, plus a roster bonus on Friday of $1.5 million. The amortized bonuses he received from past years is $3.3 million.
The Bills could avoid that $1.5 million bonus payment by in effect ripping up his contract and extending it. The $3.3 million in past bonus money he received still would count against the cap. So would the veteran minimum salary of $474,000.
The question is, how much of a signing bonus would he want in order to extend his contract another year (to 2003) or beyond? And how much more money would the Bills want to push into the future with Johnson?
Meanwhile, it appears the Bills have agreed to restructuring deals with defensive end Phil Hansen and linebacker John Holecek. Hansen would take a $500,000 cut but still would make $2.5 million.
Elsewhere, ex-Bill Ted Washington is scheduled to visit the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday.