Andre Johnson isn't getting traded.
No team would meet Houston's asking price of a first-round pick, the Houston Chronicle's John McClain told Bleacher Report.
Owner Bob McNair has said Johnson will "probably be our first Hall of Fame player," according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. Per Smith, Texans general manager Rick Smith thought Johnson's 2012 contract extension would make him a "Texan for life."
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on SportsCenter that the "feeling around the league" is that Houston won't be trading Johnson, per Rotoworld.
So why, nearly a week after Johnson wondered if Houston is "still the place" for him, per Smith, are we still talking about whether or not he's getting traded?
It's not really about Johnson. It's about what loyalty means in today's NFL.
Mutual Appreciation Society
Since the Texans made Johnson the No. 3 overall pick of the 2003 draft, he's lived up to that lofty draft status—and then some.
A seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro, Johnson's already 14th all-time in career receptions and 17th in career receiving yards, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. Throughout his 11-year career, Johnson's been a model teammate and employee.
Despite just three winning seasons and two playoff appearances, Johnson's almost never grumbled to the press, badmouthed his teammates or given anything less than 100 percent (even when he wasn't 100 percent healthy).
In return, the Texans have done right by him. Twice, they signed him to rich contract extensions—not because they absolutely had to, but because they wanted him in Houston, and happy, for the rest of his career.
Johnson's just weeks from his 33rd birthday. New head coach Bill O'Brien is working with Smith to rebuild, not reload, the roster. Johnson's realizing he won't likely go to the Super Bowl until his skills have diminished, if ever. For a competitor like Johnson, that's a bitter pill to swallow.
Can anyone blame him for being frustrated?
As the secondary character in the Robert Frost poem Mending Wall insists, "Good fences make good neighbors." The main character wonders how this can be, as neither have a reason to bother fixing the wall that separates their properties every spring.
The point isn't the fence, it's working together to mend it. For Andre Johnson, it's not that he's likely going to retire without a ring, it's that the Texans aren't bothering to try.
At this time last season, I was charged with giving out Bleacher Report's 2013 Offseason Awards. I gave Smith and the Texans the "Mike Brown Stand Pat Award." That was a playful jab at Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, who almost never made trades or major signings while he served as his own general manager.
Despite quarterback Matt Schaub's postseason failure resulting in a second straight fruitless double-digit-win season, Smith and the Texans stood pat with the team they had and hoped for the best in 2013. Their two biggest moves were: A) downgrading at safety by bringing in past-it veteran Ed Reed to replace Glover Quin, and B) taking the best available receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) when it was their turn to draft.
"Smith and the Texans may have let the other top teams pass them by," I wrote at the time; even the most pessimistic analyst couldn't have imagined the subsequent 2-14 season.
This spring, Smith hasn't been any more aggressive. After hiring O'Brien to jumpstart the passing offense, Smith overhauled the safety position and brought in defensive linemen who better fit new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's defense.
However, he "addressed" the problem at quarterback by sending Schaub packing and replacing him with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, who—at best—isn't any better:
|Matt Schaub vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Career Rate Stats|
Though many thought the Texans would draft one of the top quarterback prospects, Smith waited until the bottom of the fourth round to pick raw, late-rising project Tom Savage.
Johnson is now facing the same prospect that made Hall of Fame tailback Barry Sanders retire on the eve of training camp in 1999: another brutal summer of workouts in service of a team that has no intention of helping him win a ring or letting him win one elsewhere.
NFL fans fans and media often talk about "loyalty" when franchise icons consider free agency, but did the Texans do Johnson dirty by not going all in to win a championship—as the Denver Broncos have done for Peyton Manning?
Should Texans fans take Smith and O'Brien to task for undergoing yet another rebuilding project when they had a quality nucleus in place? What about the franchise's loyalty toward them?
Back to Work
Ultimately, Johnson has little to complain about. He's had a fantastic career—and has been paid accordingly. He's suffered through some tough times with some awful Texans teams, but the Texans suffered through some stretches where he'd been hampered (or sidelined) with injury.
Both Johnson and the Texans' leadership have publicly shown plenty of love for each other over the years, and that won't stop now. In fact, O'Brien has already begun mending fences.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Andre and his career here in Houston," O'Brien said, per ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli:
The conversations that Andre and I have had have been very positive about what we're doing here as a team and, obviously offensively, what we're doing here. As far as what Andre said, I'll let him speak for himself. I can only tell you from my end we've had good, positive communication.
The Texans need Johnson's production as they retool the offense, and they need his leadership in helping develop Hopkins, Savage and the other youngsters who'll make up the next generation of Texans.
Though Ganguli noted Johnson doesn't plan to attend any team workouts or activities until training camp, he won't be the first veteran superstar to find a way to skip out on such things.
Even if he really is struggling with his NFL mortality—even if he pulled a Barry and retired tomorrow—he'd be remembered as an all-time great, and would be beloved as the all-time greatest Texan.
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