Anquan Boldin

Why the San Francisco 49ers traded for WR Stevie Johnson and what it means

stevie johnson

I advised the 49ers to sign him in 2012. Two years later, he’s on his way back to the Bay. Today the San Francisco 49ers added a receiver who went for 1,000 yards in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and all it took was a mid-round pick.

What can we glean from this early harvest on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft?

1. Trent Baalke is either gunshy or learned his lesson, depending on your point of view.

Everybody has a weakness. Baalke doesn’t have many (besides his singing voice, I’m assuming), but drafting starting-caliber receivers hasn’t been one of his strong suits. After the A.J. Jenkins pick in 2012, who could blame the 49ers GM for acquiring proven receivers via trade (like Anquan Boldin for a sixth-rounder and Johnson today)? This way he can spend the drafts doing what he’s really good at — stockpiling hard-hitting defenders.

2. Stevie gets to come home.

Johnson was born in San Francisco, attended high school in Fairfield and played for Chabot College before transferring to Kentucky. Now he’ll play in Santa Clara. Imagine how happy he must be. Getting traded from the Bills to the 49ers is great news, even if you grew up in Buffalo.

3. This might be a one-year rental, and a lot depends on Michael Crabtree.

Did we mention that Johnson isn’t exactly known as a quiet, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of guy?

Via Buffalo News:

Johnson was slowed by back, groin and hamstring injuries last season after admitting he didn’t work out in the previous offseason. He said Tuesday that he recovered from the injuries and felt good. He sounded like he was making a stronger commitment to conditioning this year, but only he really knows. 

Johnson is under contract through 2016. He’s only making $3.6 million this year, then $5.5 million in 2015 and $5.85 million in 2016. Crabtree, as everyone is aware by now, hits the free agent market after this season. If Johnson comes into camp in shape and has a great year for the 49ers, and Crabtree’s price gets too high, they have a fallback option. If Johnson acts immaturely or doesn’t produce, see ya.

4. The 49ers’ WR group is a LOT better than it was a year ago.

Stat from Eric Branch: the 49ers have four receivers who’ve gone for over 1,000 yards in a season since 2010: Crabtree, Johnson, Anquan Boldin and Brandon Lloyd. Boldin was the only one who performed at or above his career averages in 2013, but in 2012 all four receivers ranked in top 33 overall out of 105 qualified receivers, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF takes into account blocking, hands, penalties, the whole deal. And Crabtree ranked seventh (with a score of 22.4), Lloyd was 15th (12.9), Johnson was 24th (9.8) and surprisingly Boldin was the one at No. 33 (7.7).

The 49ers could still use a downfield threat to make this group complete. But if you put those guys together and add Quinton Patton, they’re light years ahead of where they were to start last season: Boldin, Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore, Jon Baldwin and Patton. Granted, the Crabtree injury affected things greatly. That’s why Baalke can’t swear off drafting receivers completely.

5. This changes what the 49ers might do today, but not much. 

Johnson turns 28 in July, so it’s not like he’s old. However, the 49ers need to start grooming some dynamic young wideouts — preferably fast ones — so the team doesn’t have to keep spending $6 million per season on veterans. Look for the 49ers to do a lot of what they usually do. Baalke could trade up to get a guy he wants, and trade back for picks in 2015.

Got to replenish that 2015 set of picks after losing one today!

As for what positions they’ll target, we’re probably looking at at least one receiver, one cornerback and two linebackers (one outside linebacker who can get to the quarterback, and an inside backer to keep that area of the team afloat while NaVorro Bowman heals). Then again, this is the 49ers. The prudent move is to expect just about anything this time of year.

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