Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Double Coverage: Stevie Johnson trade
By Bill Williamson and Mike Rodak
During the draft, the San Francisco 49ers acquired receiver Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills for a conditional fourth-round pick. NFL Nation 49ers reporter Bill Williamson and Buffalo Bills reporter Mike Rodak discuss what the trade means for both teams.
Williamson: Mike, it appeared Johnson's days with the Bills were over when they moved up to take Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins with the No. 4 overall pick. Johnson was gone less than 24 hours later. Was it as simple as that?
There was no room for Stevie Johnson in Buffalo, but he gives San Francisco much-needed options with three-receiver sets.
Rodak: Bill, I think the Bills had a good idea for a while that they wanted to move on from Johnson if they were able to replace him in the draft. Once they selected Watkins, it put those plans in motion, which is why Johnson was gone less than 24 hours after Watkins arrived. There were questions about Johnson's future in Buffalo dating to late last season. The problem was if the Bills were (a) able to replace his production in the offense, and (b) find the right compensation on the trade market. I think the Bills did well by receiving a conditional fourth-round pick -- it could become a third-round pick -- in return for Johnson, while Watkins should slide into Johnson's old role as the No. 1 receiver.
Many Bills fans are hoping that Johnson puts up good numbers in San Francisco, as that could trigger the Bills receiving the third-round pick instead of the fourth-round selection. What are the chances of Johnson contributing right away with the 49ers? Where does he fit on the depth chart?
Williamson: Johnson is going to play extensively. He will be the third receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. But this isn't about him being behind anyone. This is about the 49ers adding another key piece. The 49ers feel their best way of toppling Seattle is with more receiving weapons, so Johnson will get a chance to contribute a lot. The 49ers ran the fewest three-receiver sets in the NFL last year. That was mostly because of their options. They clearly will feel more comfortable with Johnson in their three-receiver sets. Still, it will be somewhat of an adjustment for the offense. Thus, it is a bit difficult to predict just how many catches Johnson will get. But it is safe to say the 49ers didn't bring him on board to put him on the bench.
Mike, do you think Johnson can thrive in San Francisco or do you think he is on the downslide?
Rodak: I think Johnson has plenty left in the tank. Last season's performance was a combination of two factors: (a) playing with a carousel of inexperienced quarterbacks -- EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel -- who weren't able to consistently get him the ball, and (b) a string of injuries that kept him out of four games. Johnson drew criticism last offseason for a perception that he didn't work out and train as extensively as he needed to. Whether that led to his injuries last season is debatable, but Johnson was at the Bills' facility for the start of their workout program this offseason and seemed ready to go at full speed. If he keeps that mentality in San Francisco, the 49ers shouldn't have any issues with Johnson. If he stays healthy, he can still be an effective receiver.
Bill, what does this trade mean for some of the other receivers on the depth chart? Jonathan Baldwin and Brandon Lloyd have tried to re-start their careers in San Francisco, while Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington are younger players in the mix. How will that all shake out?
Williamson: Baldwin is all but gone. He needed to do well last year and he couldn't produce. Lloyd was an interesting, cheap add last month. But the trade of Johnson and the drafting of the speedy Ellington changed that. Last season, when Michael Crabtree was out for the first 11 games, the 49ers got virtually nothing from their receivers other than Boldin. Now, the group of Boldin, Crabtree, Johnson, Patton (who played well down the stretch after coming back from a broken foot) and Ellington gives the 49ers one of the deepest receiving groups in the NFL. It's a stunning transformation and it will all benefit quarterback Colin Kaepernick greatly. He was terrific once Crabtree returned. With a better receiving group this year, I expect the electric Kaepernick to be stellar all season.
Mike, in closing, do you think the Bills will miss Johnson or is this trade the best for everyone?
Rodak: I think both sides will benefit. The Bills didn't have room for Johnson and it didn't make sense for him to stick around. In trading Johnson now, they clear cap space -- he was set to make about $9 million each of the next two seasons -- and also pick up a draft pick next year. Since they traded their 2015 first- and fourth-round selections to move up for Watkins, having that extra pick will help. With Watkins, Woods, and Mike Williams in the mix, I don't think the Bills will miss Johnson too much.