Lee Evans didn't want to think about leaving the Buffalo Bills after this season. That is no longer an issue.
The Bills made sure their star wide receiver would be around at least through 2012 by signing him to a four-year, $37.25 million contract extension Thursday.
"I'm extremely happy right now," Evans told The Buffalo News on Thursday evening. "This is something that we have been working on for a long time and it wasn't easy. But it's finally done, and I couldn't be more thrilled about it."
Evans was four games into the final year of a contract he signed as a first-round draft pick out of Wisconsin in 2004. The Bills made it clear very early in the offseason that extending Evans was a top priority.
The deal, which includes $18.25 million in guaranteed money, makes Evans the highest-paid player in Bills' history in terms of average salary per year ($9.3 million).
"The negotiations spanned well over 6 1/2 months," Evans' agent, Ben Dogra, said. "[Senior Vice President of Football Administration] Jim Overdorf and [Chief Operating Officer] Russ Brandon and Mr. Wilson [owner Ralph] stepped up and wanted to show a huge commitment to Lee. It was not an easy negotiation. I think it's a good deal for both sides."
A breakthrough in negotiations occurred when the two sides met face to face in Indianapolis when the Bills played the Colts in a preseason game Aug. 24. They had another meeting last weekend when the Bills went to St. Louis.
"That meeting [in Indianapolis] was helpful to see if we could try to forge ahead," Dogra said. "And we made good progress over the last 10 days."
Based solely on the average, the contract makes Evans the fourth-highest paid receiver in the league behind Carolina's Steve Smith ($10.9 million), Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald ($10 million) and Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison ($9.5 million). Dallas' Terrell Owens and New England's Randy Moss average $9 million, though like Smith, their deals are over three years.
Left guard Derrick Dockery and defensive end Aaron Schobel got bigger contracts in terms of years and money from the Bills last year, but both average in the $7 million range.
"I'm happy with the contract," Evans said. "I was looking for something that was fair and would provide long-term security for me and my family. It's a win-win for everybody."
Locking up Evans long term is crucial to the Bills' long-term plans. If Evans had left, the cost of replacing him would have been exorbitant. Good free agent receivers are hard to find, and the bust-rate for drafting receivers in the first round is higher than that of quarterbacks.
Evans' contract is considerably better than the big free agent deal Minnesota gave receiver Bernard Berrian in March.
Berrian, who caught 122 passes for 1,726 yards and 11 touchdowns for Chicago the past two years, got a six-year contract worth $7 million a year and $16 million in bonuses.
But Evans is held in much higher regard than Berrian around the NFL.
Evans has 137 catches for 2,141 yards and 13 TDs the past two years. His 233 catches, 3,727 yards and 29 touchdowns are the most in team history after the first four seasons. He also tied Frank Lewis as the fastest Bills player to reach 4,000 career receiving yards (68 games).
The Bills witnessed Evans' deep-threat potential in 2006 when he caught 82 passes for 1,292 yards. The Bills' passing game struggled last season, and Evans' totals dropped to 55 catches for 849 yards.
But this season, he had his best September ever, registering 14 catches for 332 yards (second in the AFC) and one touchdown. His 23.7-yard average is second best in the NFL among starting wide receivers, and his six catches of 30-plus yards is No. 2 overall in the league.
Had Evans waited until the end of this season, he would have been one of the most desired free agents on the market. But he has maintained throughout the negotiations that his desire was to remain in Buffalo.
"This is the team that drafted me and gave me an opportunity to play in the NFL," he said. "I never even considered playing somewhere else. Everyone in the organization has been great. We have great chemistry in the locker room. I like living in Buffalo and the fans are awesome. I hope to spend my entire career here."
Evans added that the fact the Bills' future looks bright -- they have a young team with a good coaching staff and a good-looking core of players -- was another factor in his decision to commit to the Bills long term.
"The organization has done a great job of putting together a great coaching staff and bringing in great players," Evans said. "We've had some tough, tough years here, some frustrating years. But we're a team on the rise. We're 4-0 right now and we want to continue building on that. The foundation is in place for us to be successful for a long time, and I'm happy to be a part of that."
News Sports Reporter Mark Gaughan contributed to this report.