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Potential free-agent WR Johnson, Bills swap contract proposals

Representatives for wide receiver Stevie Johnson and the Buffalo Bills have exchanged contract proposals and are expected to talk during next week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, league sources told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora on Thursday.

The Buffalo News cited a league source in reporting) that the Bills submitted their offer last week and Johnson's team countered Monday. The News also reported there have yet to be further negotiations between the sides.

The exchange of offers is the first indication that contract talks have resumed since the two sides broke off discussions in November. That's when Johnson rejected the Bills' offer and said it would be up to the team to make the next move.

In completing the final year of his contract, Johnson became the first Buffalo receiver to have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He led the Bills for a second consecutive year with 76 catches for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns.

Johnson's season did end in controversy, however, after he was benched for the final three quarters of the Bills' finale at New England for drawing an excessive-celebration penalty after he scored a touchdown and pulled up his jersey to reveal the words "Happy New Year" written on his undershirt.

It was the second time last season and third time in two years that Johnson had been flagged for a TD celebration.

Bills coach Chan Gailey has said he'd be open to Johnson returning as long as he can keep his emotions in check, and general manager Buddy Nix said last month that the team wants to re-sign Johnson.

Starting next week, the Bills can place a franchise tag on Johnson to retain his rights for one more season. That possibility was considered unlikely, however, because it would put the team in a position to pay Johnson about $9.4 million next season -- and that's far more than what Buffalo is willing to shell out, even with its thin receiving corps.

Notes: New defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, who the Bills promoted after firing George Edwards, said Thursday his first move is having the unit switch back to a 4-3 scheme. Wannstedt's defenses rely on big linemen who can plug holes and pressure QBs while being supported by mobile linebackers, and his top priority is improving the blitz after the Bills finished tied for 30th in the NFL with 29 sacks. ... One question mark is the status of veteran LB Shawne Merriman, who missed the final 10 games after having surgery to repair nagging injuries to his right Achilles' tendon and shoulder. "That's a great question, and I don't have an answer," Wannstedt said of his expectations of Merriman, who has one year left on his contract. "How it all comes back, we'll all find out together." ... Wannstedt said DT Kyle Williams "is right on schedule" in recovering from a surgically repaired foot. Williams had previously indicated he expects to be cleared to practice in time for the start of training camp.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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