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Evans optimistic about getting extension from Bills

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Receiver Lee Evans is encouraged he'll secure a long-term contract extension with the Buffalo Bills this summer after negotiations intensified over the past month.

"We're moving in the right direction, which is positive," Evans said Friday at the opening of training camp in suburban Rochester. "Both sides are talking. Both sides are positive. That's really good. I am hopeful."

Bills chief operating officer Russ Brandon confirmed there's been increased dialogue with the player and his representative. "Our focus is to keep our good core of players, and we think a lot of him," he said.

The first of Buffalo's two first-round draft picks in the 2004 draft, the receiver out of Wisconsin has two years left on his contract, but holds the option to void the final year.

Unless a new deal is reached, Evans is expected to opt out of that final year, which would make him eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

The Bills can retain Evans' rights for at least one more season by designating him their franchise player. But such a move would be considered a last resort.

The two sides began negotiations in April, when the Bills made Evans an initial offer. Evans said talks have intensified since mid-June and termed them "more serious than they were before," leaving him hopeful of a deal during training camp.

"They've progressed through summer. Now that we're in camp, it'll heat up a little more," Evans said. "And hopefully, it'll heat up to a position where it can be worked out."

Evans said he hasn't established any firm deadline, but he doesn't want the talks to become a distraction once the season begins.

Evans has been a starter since his rookie season, and took over the No. 1 job in 2006 after Buffalo traded Eric Moulds to Houston. His best season was in 2006, when Evans finished sixth in the NFL with 1,292 yards receiving.

His production tailed off last season, when he had 55 catches for 849 yards and a career-low five touchdowns. But the dropoff was attributed to an offense that was unsettled at quarterback and hampered by injuries.

The Bills also lacked a secondary receiving threat to draw coverage away from Evans. That's something the team hopes it fixed with the addition of 6-foot-5, second-round draft pick James Hardy.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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