For Andre Johnson, 2014 and the subsequent next few seasons are about two things -- getting in the best possible position to win a Super Bowl and putting together a few more stellar individual seasons to help fortify his case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
If you're reading this blog post, you've likely watched enough of the Houston Texans this season to know that Johnson's no closer to accomplishing the former than he has been throughout most of his Texans career. The 2014 Texans are a top-heavy, not all that deep squad that's on its way to 7-9 or 8-8 NFL purgatory.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick as the quarterback, Johnson is playing with a signal caller who is unable to attack certain key parts of the field. I mean, literally, there are portions of the field that the opposing team doesn't really have to defend. Playing offense with Fitzpatrick as your quarterback is like trying to type a term paper using a keyboard with no vowels.
And much the same way he was when he held out of OTA's and minicamp, Johnson appears to be frustrated, bordering on fed up. That much was obvious on Monday during the open locker room media session.
Take a listen to this 4:39 of audio and then let's assess the various facets of the Andre Johnson Situation (which officially gets proper noun status)....
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Okay, here are my observations on this Q & A exchange:
1. I am going to go ahead and interpret Johnson's "no comment" answers to questions about feeling like he was wasted in Sunday's game and if it felt like he was a decoy to mean that he felt like he was wasted in Sunday's game and felt like he was a decoy.
2. I am going to take his "You watch the games, right?" answer to whether or not he's open and just not getting the ball to mean that he is open and just not getting the ball.
3. I am going to take his "I don't know, we'll see" answer to there being a light at the end of the tunnel to mean that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, but there's a much better chance that it's an oncoming train than it being a playoff berth.
4. Andre Johnson's answer to the quarterback situation was pretty telling, basically washing his hands of the whole thing and saying it's up to the coach: "That's out of my control. Coach is going to do what's best for the team. That's their decision. I don't have nothing to do with that." This is in stark contrast to his answer to virtually the same question in early October last season, after Matt Schaub had buried the 2013 season under a mountain of pick sixes. Remember this Andre answer about Schaub:
"I think he's been fine," Johnson said about Schaub in practice this week. "You try to let him know that you're behind him, that you've got his back. The first day he came in after the game, you could tell he was kind of down. But the next day he came in and he was the same old Matt, an upbeat attitude, working his butt off. I don't have a doubt in my mind that things will get changed around. He'll be ready to go Sunday."
For years, Andre Johnson would support Matt Schaub through thick, thin, and terrible. (Right up until the Oakland game last season, at least.) With Fitzpatrick, Andre clearly either feels beaten down or just doesn't give a shit who is throwing the ball to him, perhaps because all these quarterbacks are merely different flavors of inept.
Although, this morning, there was this from NFL.com's Ian Rapoport (who has slowly become the national media's Pedro Gomez to Andre's Barry Bonds):
One important factor as #Texans head into the bye week mulling their QB options: Veteran WR Andre Johnson is a big fan of Ryan Mallett.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 4, 2014
Back to Fitzpatrick...he quite simply is unable or unwilling to attack the deep middle of the field. In the Eagles game on Sunday, Fitzpatrick had 13 completions and the only one that traveled further than ten yards through the air was a first quarter 22 yard completion to DeAndre Hopkins that was supposed to be a back shoulder fade that Hopkins somehow managed to snatch away from a defender because Fitzpatrick threw it to his front shoulder. You can't play offense in the NFL effectively with little to no ability to conventionally attack down the field. You just can't.
In short, when Andre was holding out through the summer months, envisioning what an abortion this offense could be for him with Fitzpatrick as the quarterback, I have a feeling he is right now playing in the exact quagmire he foresaw.
5. Regarding whether or not he's down, Andre Johnson says "I'm good. I'm living life. I'm not down." When a player tells you how they're living life outside of football as an answer to whether or not they're frustrated with football, it means they're frustrated with football. The only thing missing was Andre citing how lucky he is that everyone around him is healthy.
6. Andre Johnson is not being used like Andre Johnson right now. (Actually, DeAndre Hopkins is being used like Andre Johnson right now.) All of his targets lately seem to be bubble screens, short slant routes, and an occasional back shoulder fade. (Coincidentally, these are virtually the only routes Fitzpatrick can throw outside of an occasional medium-deep ball off play action.) Andre's being used like some weird combination of a souped up H-back and Kevin Walter. And who knows? Maybe that's what he is now. We have no idea because this team is running its offense like a handcuffed swimmer swims the breaststroke. But how he is used has to be important to Andre Johnson because....
7. ....what happens after the season if he finishes the season with, say, 80 catches for a little under 1,000 yards and just a couple touchdowns (which is what he's on pace for and actually trending in the wrong direction)? Can you pay a guy Andre's salary for that type of production and role? Here is Andre Johnson's salary situation:
YEAR SALARY CAP FIGURE DEAD MONEY
2015: $10,500,000 $16,144,583 $7,319,583 2016: $11,000,000 $14,675,000 $2,675,000
Can you pay what basically amounts to a disgruntled possession receiver $10.5 million? Can you use up over ten percent of your salary cap on a guy who's not even your best wide receiver? How much does being the all-time "face of the franchise" count for? I can't imagine Bill O'Brien, diplomatic as he was during Johnson's holdout, thinks it's smart business to keep a grumpy Andre Johnson around to catch six yard slant routes and bubble screens. That's just math.
Of course, Bob McNair will likely have final say on any Andre-related decision.
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8. Also, did I mention that Andre Johnson has six touchdowns in his last 27 games? Conversely, Steelers rookie receiver Martavis Bryant has five touchdowns in his first three career games. Fun fact.
Andre Johnson finished the interview session by discussing where he'd be going for his bye week. "Get far away from here," he said. "I just need to go like go to an island or something."
Apparently, the road to Canton goes through the Bahamas.