Cornerback Nate Clements is playing for a new contract this season. He made one heck of a case for himself Sunday.
Clements' blanket coverage on Houston Texans Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson played a strong role in the Bills' season-opening 22-7 victory.
Typically, the Bills don't flip their cornerbacks. Clements lines up on the right side, while Terrence McGee mans the left corner.
But Clements shadowed Johnson all over the field. The results: Johnson was held to three catches for 18 yards. He didn't make his first reception until there was 3:30 remaining in the third quarter.
Clements got some help from safeties in covering Johnson, but generally it was Clements' job to stop Johnson and he did.
"(Defensive coordinator) Jerry Gray feels the same way I feel," Clements said. "You put your number one guy on their number one guy and call it hand ball and let's go. That's what we did.
"It's not like I was trying to make a statement to anybody. I just play. What I really wanted to accomplish was win first. Be held accountable for what I do and take care of my responsibility and get a win out of it."
Clements has been one of the NFL's most talented cornerbacks throughout his five-year career. He's got ideal size (6-feet, 209 pounds) to compete with big receivers and the speed to run with fast ones.
It's those qualities that will make Clements one of the most sought-after players in free agency next year. That is, if he's allowed to become a free agent.
The Bills could make him their franchise player after the season, but their first choice would be signing Clements to a contract extension. Both sides have continued to talk, but according to Clements' agent, Todd France, no significant progress has been made yet.
"At this point there is nothing to report," France said. "The lines of communication between the team and I are open, there just has not been any real progress to this point."
France said negotiations could continue during the season only if significant progress is made and they don't become a distraction to either the team or to Clements.
"If a deal is not reached early on, then obviously when the season ends we can pick negotiations back up. At this point it is just too early to say what exactly will happen after the season in terms of getting something done."
Clements has stated publicly that he wants to be among the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL. That would put him in the neighborhood of Champ Bailey, who got an $18 million signing bonus as part of a seven-year, $63 million contract he got from the Denver Broncos.
But football, not money, is the only thing on Clements' mind right now.
"As I said before the season, I'm not worried about contract negotiations or anything like that," he said. "All I'm worried about is getting W's and taking care of my business on the field and everything else will fall into place for me."
On Sunday, Clements couldn't have asked for a better scenario to showcase his ability. The Texans are limited in the passing game because they don't have much other than Johnson, who was the only Houston wide receiver to catch a pass Sunday.
Despite the lack of a second receiving threat, Johnson remains a dangerous player that defenses must account for on every play. He is a physical receiver with a rare combination of great size (6-3, 221) and sprinter's speed.
The last time Johnson came to Buffalo as a rookie in 2003 he lit up the Bills for four catches totaling 122 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown. He got behind Clements only once on a long pass Sunday, but free safety Troy Vincent made a leaping interception to kill the scoring threat.
For the most part, Johnson was rarely heard from because Clements stuck to him like flypaper.
"He's an athletic receiver, big, fast and strong," Clements said of Johnson. "You just can't let him know what you're going to do. You have to keep him guessing. I can't sit there and try to outmuscle the guy every single snap. It's not going to really work. You pick and choose your spots."
No one knows if Clements will play for the Bills beyond this season, but it's all about the here and now for him. He knows he's a valued member of this team.
"I think Nate was on a mission, especially missing the better part of the week of practice (with a sore shoulder)," said Bills coach Mike Mularkey. "He wanted to prove that he was healthy first of all and he wanted to be matched up against Andre and see what took place."
"I could tell early on that he was excited about the matchup, and I think he got the better half of it when the game was all said and done."
Clements plans to savor his season-opening performance, but not too long. He knows other challenges await him down the road. He knows there are other receivers looking forward to coming after him.
His response to that: Bring it on.
"I'm competitive," he said. "I always have the mentality that I'm going to beat the man across from me. Whoever it is, it's going to be a long day for him."