BBD Editor: Dan Hope
As soon as the Buffalo Bills traded up for Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins in Thursday night’s first round of the NFL draft, the rumblings began that Stevie Johnson’s departure from Buffalo could only be a matter of time. As it turned out, it wasn’t even a matter of 24 hours, as the Bills traded Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers on Friday afternoon in exchange for a 2015 conditional fourth-round pick.
The pick netted in the trade, first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, could become a third-round pick in the 2015 draft dependent upon Johnson’s production in 2014.
While Johnson had been Buffalo’s No. 1 wide receiver for four years, it became clear with the Watkins acquisition that his role was about to be significantly diminished if he was still on the time. Having also acquired veteran wide receiver Mike Williams from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this offseason, Johnson was perhaps set to fall as far as fourth on Buffalo’s depth chart.
The Bills’ passing offense needed a spark, and that they should most certainly get from Watkins and Williams. But the Bills also have two promising young receivers expected to make second-year leaps in Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin. Where does that leave Johnson? In San Francisco.
Trading Johnson could be a tough pill for Buffalo to swallow from a salary cap standpoint, as the team gave him a $1.75 million roster bonus in March that brings his dead money hit to $10.225 million.
From a roster standpoint, however, the trade makes complete sense. Among the Bills’ top five receivers, Johnson and Woods have the most comparable skill sets, but Woods is a player on the rise while Johnson had seemingly plateaued in Buffalo. Additionally, it was important for the Bills to recoup at least one 2015 draft pick, as they traded their first- and fourth-round selections for next year’s draft in their move up for Watkins on Thursday night.
The trade also makes sense for the 49ers, who had been rumored to be in the market for a wide receiver. At a relatively low cost to them, at least in terms of trade value, San Francisco has added a veteran receiver who can make plays both outside and from the slot, and likely projects as the 49ers’ No. 3 receiver on their depth chart.
In his six seasons with the Bills, Johnson caught 301 passes for 3,832 yards and 28 touchdowns. From 2010-2012, Johnson had three consecutive seasons in which he caught at least 76 throws and had at least 1,000 receiving yards.
P.S. I would be remiss to post about Stevie Johnson without giving credit to BBD contributor Ryan Glaze, who predicted in February—before the acquisitions of Watkins and Williams—that the Bills would move on from Johnson this offseason. At the time, I argued that the Bills would have “far more to lose than gain” by trading Johnson, but that came before the team added two starting-caliber playmakers at the position.