Sean Pendergast

Four Thoughts on the Houston Texans Trade For RB Duke Johnson

Duke Johnson is a different kind of threat for the Houston Texans.
Screen grab from YouTube
Duke Johnson is a different kind of threat for the Houston Texans.
In what was about as busy a week as a team can have on the field early in training camp — travel to Green Bay, multiple practices with the Packers, planning for and playing a preseason game — the Texans managed to accomplish some things off the field, too, namely it appears that they fixed their running back depth chart.

As of Sunday morning, gone was third year running back and former third round pick (and Texas City native) D'Onta Foreman. All along, my hunch was that the backfill for Foreman was on someone else's roster, but if I'm being honest, I meant a future cut by some team, with the Texans picking up that player. I did not expect what went down yesterday afternoon, as the Texans made a trade that the fan base has been clamoring for, picking up RB Duke Johnson from the Cleveland Browns:

Johnson is heading into his fifth year in the league, and in his first four years, he developed into one of the more potent receiving threats out of the backfield, averaging 57 catches for 524 yards per season. Perhaps more importantly to a head coach like Bill O'Brien, who preaches availability as a seeming end all and be all, Johnson played every game in his four seasons as a Brown.

For those wanting to put eyes on some delightful visuals of the newest Houston Texan, here you go. This is some "third down back" porn right here!

Ok, here are my other prevailing thoughts on this deal:

The Flat Organizational Structure made a deal!
Since firing Brian Gaine, missing out on Nick Caserio, and settling into a structure, described by Chairman and CEO Cal McNair as a flat organizational structure, in which head coach Bill O'Brien is sharing general manager duties with four other folks, the concern among fans has been "Ok, so what happens when a deal needs to be made? Who do other teams work with?" Well, we got our answer yesterday:

As I said when Foreman was cut over the weekend, the message is clear that this is O'Brien's ship now. I give O'Brien credit — amidst rampant skepticism over his chops at overseeing the roster, he decisively moved on from a former third round pick, and then promptly upgraded the depth chart by picking up a running back in a deal where skill (Johnson is one of the best receiving backs in football) met need (Texans have needed a guy like this for some time).

Texans haven't had a guy like Johnson in the O'Brien Era
If we're assessing things honestly, the Texans have not had a player with Johnson's skillset since Bill O'Brien took over as head coach in 2014. Sure, Arian Foster was on the squad for a season and a half with O'Brien as the head coach, but the pass catching wizard version of Foster was more a 2010 and 2011 thing than a 2014 and 2015 thing. They've tried filling that pass catching back role with Jonathan Grimes and Tyler Ervin, but neither is in the same universe as Johnson. If the tight end position, likely Jordan Akins, steps up to being a plus for this team, then the Texans will be among the best teams in football across the skill positions, I feel that strongly about what Johnson brings to the table. (Here is where we insert the obligatory sentence about the offensive line just needing to be AVERAGE. PLEASE, BE AVERAGE. Is that too much to ask?)

Johnson's contractual situation is perfect for the Texans
Lamar Miller's contract is up after this season, so who knows what happens with the Texans lead back in 2020 and beyond? The good news is that Duke Johnson's deal runs through 2021, and there is no guaranteed money left for which the Texans are responsible. If it works out in 2019, they've got Johnson for two more years at a non-guaranteed total salary of $8.25 million. If it doesn't work out, the Texans can move on.

Are the Texans done dealing?
So now comes the question "Does O'Brien have the wheeling and dealing bug going right now?" There have been rumors of the Texans kicking tires at the cornerback position with some teams around the league, and that's not a surprise, given how heavily they're relying on virtually every cornerback on the current depth chart to exceed reasonable expectations in 2019. I would imagine that the Texans are always looking at offensive linemen, and most of the fan base would be all in on "O'Brien the GM" if he pulled off a deal for Redskins left tackle Trent Williams. Finally, there's still the possibility, unlikely as it may be, that Jadeveon Clowney gets moved before he returns to the team after the third preseason game. I think that's on the board. Not a heavy favorite or anything, but on the board.

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