"I know that we would like to have him back, we'd like to see him retire a Houston Texan. But again, I don't think retirement is in his mind. When I say that, I just mean in the future. We don't want him to play anywhere else. He's a Houston Texan and we want him back." -- Bill O'Brien at the NFL Combine two weeks ago
If you read Bill O'Brien's quotes from the NFL Combine a couple of weeks ago, he really seemed to want Andre Johnson back with the Houston Texans next season. He seemed adamant, almost enthusiastic, by God!
However, as is oftentimes the case, it's not so much what O'Brien said but what he didn't say. Scour the quotes again, and there's no mention of dollars, no mention of "at what price" the Texans would want Andre Johnson back. Just, "Hey, we'd love to have Andre Johnson back!"
Money can be a very polarizing issue in today's NFL, what with that darn salary cap and all, and when a big cap figure meets advancing age and declining production, rarely is happiness at that nexus. Unless you're an elite quarterback or willingly choose to walk away at a young age (Barry Sanders), if you are a highly paid franchise icon, you'll likely finish out your career toiling for another team. That's the way it is. That's the NFL.
Predictably, Andre Johnson and Texans fans learned this the hard way on Monday night.
As it turns out, head coach Bill O'Brien and Andre Johnson met last Thursday to discuss the wide receiver's future with the team. It was there that, according to a fantastic recounting in the Houston Chronicle from Jerome Solomon's conversation with Andre and his agents on Monday, O'Brien told Johnson that the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver would have a diminished role on the 2015 Houston Texans.
Now, a "diminished role," on the surface, is somewhat believable, given that Andre Johnson would be 34 years old at the start of next season. However, there are diminished roles and then there are flat-out insults. According to Johnson, O'Brien told him that he shouldn't expect to be a regular starter and his role with the Texans would involve somewhere around 40 catches next season. This, right after a season in which Andre Johnson caught 85 balls, which is actually right at his career average per season.
Johnson, according to Solomon's article, reacted the way most of us did:
"I just laughed," Johnson said Monday night. "They gave me my role, and I just laughed at em. How do you tell a guy who is used to catching 80 balls a year that he was going to catch 40?"
It's a great question, and something that I would have loved to have seen televised on the NFL Network -- Bill O'Brien, with a straight face, telling the greatest player in franchise history and a future Hall of Famer that he would have a diminished role behind Keshawn Martin; and, oh by the way, Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin will be siphoning off some of your catches, Dre.
That is, unless O'Brien planned on having DeAndre Hopkins catch 200 balls next season (which is way more likely than anyone not named DeAndre Hopkins on the roster right now catching 40).
As you can probably guess, Johnson took to O'Brien's new plan like Louie Anderson to green vegetables. He rejected it wholeheartedly, and thus was given permission by the team to seek out a trade, and if he is unable to find a trade partner, the team will give him his release, according to the Chronicle's John McClain.
Monday night, Johnson paid thanks to the fans and city of Houston (no mention of the Texans) on Instagram....
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And several of his current and former teammates paid tribute to him...
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) March 3, 2015
— Duane Brown (@DuaneBrown76) March 3, 2015
Where Andre Johnson goes from here is anybody's guess, but he now at least controls the situation. If there is a trade, it will be with a team of Johnson's choosing, and if he is released, then obviously he becomes a free agent, after the formality of his clearing waivers (along with his $10.5 million salary).
Best early guesses for Johnson landing spots, and these are all subject to exactly what price tag each of these teams is willing to pay for Andre Johnson's services, are New England, Seattle, Denver and Indianapolis. In New England, he'd be playing with the greatest quarterback in the history of the league, which after the QBs he's been strapped with in Houston would be like going from a decade of celibacy to nightly sex with Kate Upton. In Seattle, oddly enough, he'd become their immediate number one receiver. In Denver, well, Kubiak. That is all.
And if Andre Johnson goes to Indianapolis, I'm opening a liquor store.
As for the Texans, where do they go from here? Well, their wide-receiving corps, which was already fairly wretched with Johnson, is now clearly the worst in the league. When you add in their tight ends, it would clearly be the worst in the SEC West. Moving Johnson gives them $8.8 million in additional cap space ($22 million overall); however, my fear is that Rick Smith will use the money to purchase a robot filled with magic beans wearing a split jersey with Ed Reed's and Ahmad Green's names on the back.
As opposed to signing, say, Randall Cobb.
The Texans haven't ever had a good player whose career arc with the team has had a standard beginning, middle and end. Mario Williams's career was a bunch of fits and starts that ended with him sort of quietly fading away with a pectoral tear in 2011. DeMeco Ryans's Achilles injury tore his Texans career up and he was traded for a couple of draft picks. All the other good players to begin their careers here have either left in free agency or are still playing.
Andre Johnson was basically here all the time from 2003 on, leading, being great. Aside from a few nagging injuries here and there, he answered the bell every Sunday. (Hell, for a couple years there toward the end he was actually on a team good enough to play on the semi-occasional Monday!)
Overall, though, Johnson's time will be remembered as much for the team's ineptitude at the quarterback position and in roster building as it will be for his transcendent play. Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com asked Twitter to tweet their favorite Johnson memories to her on Monday night. Overwhelmingly, people most remember Andre Johnson for beating the ever-loving shit out of Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan with his two fists on a Sunday afternoon in 2010.
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That Houston's fondest memory of the NFL's ninth leading all-time receiver is a fistfight against a troll-ish cornerback speaks to just how few significant games Johnson played in, which is 1,000 percent the fault of the organization, an organization that paid Andre Johnson handsomely but on the field failed him miserably.
And now, Andre Johnson gets a chance to walk away, a chance to see how the other half lives. The half that has real quarterbacks, real blueprints, busy Januaries.
What a magical place that must be.