Even before the Buffalo Bills traded two first-round draft picks and a fourth-round pick to Cleveland for the opportunity to draft Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins last night, rumors had been swirling that Stevie Johnson might not be long for Buffalo.
Now, it might be more than just rumor. WGR 550's Joe Buscaglia reported on Thursday afternoon, several hours before the move for Watkins was made, that Johnson would be on the trade block essentially from the moment a receiver was drafted.
"If the Bills do end up with a receiver in the first round of the draft, Buffalo will then likely look to immediately see what they can get for wide receiver Stevie Johnson in terms of draft picks, according to sources," Buscaglia wrote. "With his increasing cap number, it isn’t likely that Johnson stays on with the Bills past this season, meaning the drafting of a receiver would likely fast forward the clock on his potential departure from the team."
GM Doug Whaley dodged around the question of whether or not Johnson could be moved on Thursday night, moments after selecting Watkins.
"This is all about our first-round pick, Sammy Watkins. We’re taking this all in, leaving this to you guys to pontificate on that," Whaley said. "But we’re all about Sammy Watkins right now, and we’re excited about that. Stevie’s on our team, he’s under contract. That’s another weapon in our arsenal."
Johnson, entering the third year of a five-year, $36.25 million contract he signed in March of 2012, is coming off of his worst season as a starter in Buffalo. Battling through nagging injuries and missing the final stretch of the regular season due to the unfortunate passing of his mother, Johnson finished the 2013 campaign with 52 receptions, 597 yards and three touchdowns - all four-year lows for the seventh-year pro.
Trading Johnson might be easier said than done, even though he is still only 27 years old and a proven commodity. His cap number jumped to $8.5 million this season, and it'll only continue to increase ($8.85 million in 2015, $8.95 million in 2016) in the final two years of his contract. Any team trading for Johnson assumes that contract plus the cost of acquiring him, which might strike most teams as a bit too rich. Still, for teams looking for an immediate upgrade at wideout, Johnson could be had relatively cheap - perhaps only for a fifth- or sixth-round pick this year or next.
Whatever Johnson's future holds - and it's entirely possible that he does stay in Buffalo for the 2014 season, battling with Watkins, Mike Williams, Robert Woods, T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin for playing time; it might even be likely if the Bills are as all-in on a 2014 playoff push as they seem - he took the classy route after the Watkins selection on Thursday evening.