This week, news broke that the Texans’ longtime face of the franchise, wide receiver Andre Johnson, was asked to take a pay cut and accept a reduced, non-starting role with the team. Reportedly, Johnson responded by laughing. That’s the only valid response if you’ve had the career that Johnson’s had, especially with that team. Johnson is one of only four receivers in NFL history to put up at least one thousand career receptions with only one franchise, and the others—former Colts receiver Marvin Harrison, former Steelers receiver Hines Ward, and active Colts receiver Reggie Wayne—caught the bulk of their passes from future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and Super Bowl MVP Ben Roethlisberger. Johnson caught his from a hodgepodge of passers including David Carr, Matt Schaub, T. J. Yates, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and more. During his prime, Johnson may have been the best receiver in the NFL—but trapped on bad Texans teams, he may also have been the league’s least heralded superstar.
Johnson is 34, which is old in football years, but it’s an age at which receivers can still be productive, especially if their skills started where Johnson’s did. He finished the 2014 season, which saw the Texans start four different players at quarterback, with 85 receptions for nearly 1,000 yards and three touchdowns.
Still, it’s not unreasonable for the Texans to be interested in moving on: Johnson’s probably got a few good years left in him, but he’s an expensive player—his contract for 2015 is $11.5 million.
And so the two parties have come, as Boys II Men once sang, to the end of the road. The Texans might have found a better way to send off the man who, at least until the arrival of J. J. Watt, was the entire identity of their franchise, but the writing is on the wall for a team that needed to get better, and younger, in a hurry: $11.5 million is too much money to pay a receiver who is on the back side of his career.
The Texans gave Johnson permission to seek a trade, but that’s unlikely to happen: his contract may be burdensome for another team, and why would a team trade for a guy who, in a little while, is almost certainly going to be released?
CBS’s Bleacher Report suggests that, if Johnson does end up released, the rival Indianapolis Colts are one of three teams that would be happy to pay Johnson $10 million for his services in 2015. It’s not hard to imagine a team like the New England Patriots, which could use help and often knows how to take advantage of the talents of older players, being in the mix as well. Even a team like the Carolina Panthers, who have a solid starter at quarterback but a barren cupboard at receiver, could be interested.
But all the talk about where Johnson is going to end up is kind of a bummer: it’s worth remembering, first, the greatness that he brought to Houston. In 2012, for example, Johnson put together an all-time great game in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, putting up a massive 273 yards receiving, strapping the team on his back, and charging almost singlehandedly to an overtime victory. I mean, look:
Johnson is a player who’s been capable of making in-the-moment adjustments on the run, like the one-handed touchdown catch he made on a go-route against the Tennessee Titans:
Any collection of Andre Johnson highlights is essentially a tutorial for how to play the receiver position. He’s an all-time great, and while this is a sad way for his tenure in Houston to end (for a guy who never pushed for a trade when stuck on bad teams during his prime to get dumped unceremoniously), if you’re a fan of the game, it’s hard not to watch any Johnson reel and smile.
(AP Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher)