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Progress made in talks with Johnson

Maybe there's real hope for Stevie Johnson's return to the Buffalo Bills.

The Bills made some progress in talks Friday with the agent for Johnson in their effort to reach an agreement on a new contract.

"We had a very productive meeting," said Johnson's representative, C.J. LaBoy, after a session with Jim Overdorf, Bills senior vice president for football administration. "I'm very optimistic. I'm looking forward to continue talking."

Johnson, who posted his second straight 1,000-yard receiving season in 2011, is due to hit the free-agent market March 13. The Bills have been in negotiations since before the start of the 2011 season in an effort to keep him in the fold. Football agents and NFL negotiators all are attending the NFL Scouting Combine this week.

Just how close to an $8 million-a-year salary Johnson merits has remained a question in talks between the two sides. And as with all big contracts, the structure of the deal figures to be complex and at least as important as the average value.

There were 14 wide receivers making $7.65 million a year or more last season. But that number will rise. Johnson is among a good group of receivers whose contracts are up. It includes New England's Wes Welker, Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson, Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, San Diego's Vincent Jackson and New Orleans' Marques Colston. It's uncertain how many of them will actually hit the free-agent market, because teams could retain them with the use of a franchise tag, which would guarantee a receiver about $9.5 million in 2012 in most cases.

Bills General Manager Buddy Nix reiterated his desire to re-sign Johnson before Friday's negotiating session.

"We've got to have a good draft," Nix said. "I think the key is: Can we plug a hole or two in free agency? And I'll add this: We need to keep our own, too. We need to do that. We can't do that at the expense of costing us in other areas, but we've got to make every attempt to keep 'em."

Even though the Bills are not expected to put a franchise tag on Johnson, Nix would not rule it out. "It's always an option. It's not something you'd like to do but it is an option," he said.