There’s a play I’ll always think of when it comes to Andre Johnson. It’s the Texans running a play action pass with the quarterback rolling to his right and slinging a deep ball. No matter how bad the Texans running back (and before Arian Foster came along, the Texans running backs were bad), opposing teams seemingly always bit for the fake, including the defensive backs who were supposedly covering Johnson.
Johnson would always break from the line, get a step on whoever was supposed to be covering him, then sprint down the middle of the field, wide open. The pass always seemed to fall right into Johnson’s arms while he was in stride, and he would jog into the end zone. This rarely happened, of course, primarily because Matt Schaub’s passes were usually floating ducks, and Johnson would have to slow up to catch the ball, have to break stride, and would often be tackled soon after as defenders were able to catch up to him while he waited for the ball.
Yet even though Johnson was often the best player on offense, and on the team, and though he was often hit with double coverages, Johnson always found a way to get open and catch the ball. He hauled in 1,012 passes while with the Texans, accumulating 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns (career totals are 14,100 yards and 68 TD).
Imagine what those numbers would look like had he had someone besides David Carr, or Tony Banks, or Dave Raggone, or Sage Rosenfels, or Matt Schaub, or T.J. Yates, or Jake Delhomme, or Case Keenum, or Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Ryan Mallett throwing the football in his direction. And just think of what those TD numbers would have been if Schaub could’ve hit Johnson in stride on some of those bombs, or if the geniuses on the coaching staff had thrown him the ball more often in the end zone instead of using him as a decoy so that J.J. Watt could poach a few TD receptions.
On Friday, Johnson — the greatest player in the history of the Houston Texans — signed with the Tennessee Titans. True, it’s not really that hard to be the greatest player for a team whose history is defined by the word “mediocre,” but he’s still one of those special players who, during his prime, would have been a great player no matter what kind of team on which he played.
Yes, it’s disappointing that Johnson has signed with the Titans. Not because the Titans are a supposed rival of the Texans and players shouldn’t sign with rival teams. But disappointing that such a formerly great player once again finds himself on a crappy team with an awful head coach and seemingly no real plan for turning itself into a winning franchise.
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It would’ve been nice to see Johnson retire as a Texan, as the greatest player in franchise history should. But the team cast him aside before last season, so Johnson is in that just-hanging-around phase of his career, something that also happened with great receivers like Jerry Rice and Reggie Wayne. But for a Texans fan, and for an Andre Johnson fan, it just seems strange seeing him bouncing around the dregs of the league after having played on a mediocre team for so, so long.
There are those who will disagree about Johnson being the best player in team history — they’re probably J.J. Watt sycophants. Watt is a great player, but he’s always had other really talented players playing beside him, and he’s usually had a defensive coaching staff that knows what it’s doing, whereas Johnson was usually alone on an island, having to do it on his own.
Johnson’s career is also one that DeAndre Hopkins should probably be studying, because the Texans currently appear to be treating Hopkins as crappily as the team did Johnson. Hopkins is far and away the best player on the offense who also had to deal with the league's lousy QBs in his three years, having caught passes from Schaub, Yates, Keenum, Mallett, Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, Tom Savage and Brandon Weedon, and who now finds himself being stuck with another QB in Brock Osweiler who has yet to even be average in his career.
Who knows what this season holds for Johnson? The Titans are a bad team, possibly as bad as some of those David Carr-led Texans teams on which Johnson spent the early part of his career. It’d be nice to see him have one last great year, but no matter what, for now, he’s still the greatest player in the history of the Houston Texans.