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Bills QB Johnson Signs $25M Deal

July 14, 1998

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) _ Buffalo Bills quarterback Rob Johnson signed a $25 million, five-year deal Tuesday that includes a franchise-record $8.5 million signing bonus.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson said it was one game, Johnson’s only NFL start, that convinced him to bank on the 25-year-old, acquired from Jacksonville in February in exchange for Buffalo’s first- and fourth-round draft picks.

``He’s got a great arm. He’s got great mobility,″ Wilson said, ``and right now he’s got a lot of money.″

Johnson, a backup behind Mark Brunell for three years in Jacksonville, completed 20 of 24 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns in his only career start at Baltimore last season.

``It’s a big load off my mind,″ said Johnson, who made $400,000 last season. ``It’s nice to have a little security and to go out and concentrate on football. .. The money doesn’t matter to me. It really doesn’t.″

The Bills voided the final year of Johnson’s contract and replaced it with the new five-year package. The signing bonus surpasses the $6.5 million Ted Washington received as part of the $27 million, five-year deal he signed on March 1.

The Bills have been looking for a proven passer since Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season. Last year, they started the season with Todd Collins, went to Billy Joe Hobert, back to Collins and alternated between Collins and third-stringer Alex Van Pelt to finish the 6-10 season.

Agent Leigh Steinberg and Bills general manager John Butler began negotiating an extension of Johnson’s contract in March. But they had to wait to formalize the deal until the union ratified its new collective bargaining agreement with the league, allowing teams to amortize a player’s signing bonus for six years instead of five.

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