Mario "Game" Granata
An idea that was echoed even before the 2014 NFL Draft took place, if the Buffalo Bills were to select Sammy Watkins with their first pick, would that mean the end of Stevie Johnson's career in Buffalo? That question was answered on Day 2 of the draft as Johnson was sent to San Francisco for a 4th round pick, and a move that left many of the Buffalo faithful questioning the move. Taking a look at the business end of the deal, it is apparent that the Bills are looking ahead.
Taking the recent moves by the Buffalo Bills with a touch of irony, one has to ask "Why so serious?" Stevie Johnson, was a polarizing figure in Western New York for his Social Media savvy and his ability to break down a defender off the line of scrimmage, but when it comes down to the business aspect of the Bills, trading Stevie was the move that was going to happen when they traded up to select Sammy Watkins with the 4th overall pick in the 2014 Draft. For years, the Bills have not had a sure fire #1 receiver, and while many questioned the production of Johnson, he was still able to put up impressive numbers playing as an outside receiver, even though that is not his natural position. Johnson belongs in the slot, but he was due to make 8 million in 2014, and close to 9 million in 2015 and 2016, two years where the Bills have to make difficult choices to the future of their team at other positions, this frees up some cash for them to do so.
By trading Stevie Johnson, the Bills are going to take a 10 million dollar cap hit in the form of dead money, but looking at the trade off during that span, they figured they were either going to pay him for the length of his contract (and estimated 25 million over that span) and would have to make a tough decision at the end of the 2016 season. During the length of Johnson's contract, the Bills have Fred Jackson, and CJ Spiller in 2015, Stephon Gilmore, Keith Rivers, Cordy Glenn and Marcell Dareus in 2016, and looking further ahead, Leodis McKelvin, Kraig Urbik, Manny Lawson, and Kiko Alonso in 2017 to resign during that time, and with Johnson absorbing close to 9 million each year that they would have to make decisions about those other players, it is probably a discussion that the Bills wanted to avoid.
The Buffalo Bills now have a solid core, hopefully, of the W Triplets in Watkins, Robert Woods, and Mike Williams, and also the speedy Marquise Goodwin, who will more than likely take Stevie's place in the slot, to give the Bills weapons for 2nd year quarterback EJ Manuel to work with. Watkins will be asked to be the #1 wideout, with the crisp route running, Robert Woods on the outside, and Goodwin taking the cover off the defense with a solid possession receiver in Mike Williams as well. This is probably the reason that the Bills weren't pushing to obtain a tight end in the draft, even though a lot of rumors speculated that Eric Ebron would be drafted by the Bills.
Now the focus shifts to Manuel if he can be "the guy" for the Bills moving forward. The Bills picked up Chris Williams from St. Louis this off-season to fill the inconsistent play at the left guard position, they drafted Cyrus Kouandjio and handcuffed him with Seantrel Henderson if his knees go out, or Henderson happens to have some off the field issues, all in an attempt to supplement Erik Pears who will is 31 and the elder statesmen of the offensive line. They then picked up Anthony Dixon who is a short yardage back, and Bryce Brown, if injuries to Cj Spiller and Fred Jackson happen to resurface. So, all that being said, the Bills, on paper, have all the pieces in place, and if they happen to work out, and they get some consistent play from EJ Manuel, they moved Stevie Johnson in order to create some cap space in the years to come.