Hard to blame Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson for refusing to attend organized team activities for the only team he's played for in his NFL career. Entering his 12th season, the seven-time Pro Bowler should be running for the hills from Houston, but to do so, difficult as it may be, he must ensure that he'll be traded to a better situation to succeed.
Johnson wasn't around for Tuesday's initial, voluntary OTAs, as reported by NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport:
Last week, Rapoport reported that Johnson wouldn't likely attend the team's mandatory minicamp, per NFL.com's Dan Hanzus.
Although general manager Rick Smith did a great job bolstering the defense by choosing freakish athlete Jadeveon Clowney at the top of the draft, and addressing other positions of need, there is still one glaring hole absent a surefire starter. It's at the most important position of quarterback—the man who will be throwing Johnson the ball if he stays put in Houston.
The current roster comprises the likes of journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, former undrafted free agent Case Keenum, career backup TJ Yates and raw fourth-round draft pick Tom Savage. None of them look like capable long-term solutions under center.
While that assertion is based on both Keenum and Yates not producing all too well with a limited sample size, and Savage's status as a project, Fitzpatrick flopped in his lone chance to be a franchise QB with the Buffalo Bills.
Not many quarterback depth charts appear more ominous, and, if Johnson could find a far superior signal-caller, perhaps he'd be in for a better upcoming year.
New head coach Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel both hail from New England Patriots boss Bill Belichick's tree, but O'Brien is making his debut at the helm of an NFL team. The transition can't be helping ease Johnson's mind about his future as he approaches his 33rd birthday in July.
Based on Houston's history, and current set of circumstances, bouncing back to prominence after holding the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft seems like a reach. But with the volatility in results from year to year that the parity-ridden league tends to nurture, there's a chance that Johnson could enjoy an excellent 2014 campaign as a member of the Texans.
It's for that reason that Johnson has to be careful if he does decide to demand a trade.
If age is slowing Johnson down, he's showing few signs of such a thing, as Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle pointed out in his analysis of the wideout's eye-popping recent numbers:
O'Brien shared his thoughts on the Johnson situation on Tuesday, per NFL Network's Albert Breer:
With just two trips to the playoffs since being drafted No. 3 overall in 2003 by the Texans, it makes sense that Johnson is questioning how his playing days would end with the only team he's known. At this juncture, the primary and perhaps only goal has to be about winning, which Houston doesn't seem positioned to do all that well for 2014.
Between having one of the worst QB situations in the NFL and a new staff to acclimate to, even a rather weak AFC South division may be too much for the Texans to overcome this particular season.
Johnson has been an absolute professional—a rare receiver able to be the face of a franchise, in the mold of Arizona Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald. Bearing that in mind as context, Johnson has every right to demand something greater after paying his dues, especially when he battled for all 16 games during last year's 2-14 campaign to catch 109 passes for 1,407 yards.
Should Smith explore trading one of his offensive cornerstones, he should command a considerable asset in return, given the cost he'd incur just to sent the disgruntled Johnson out of town, per Breer:
Given Johnson's age, that may be difficult to do. Some sort of middle ground will have to be reached on the trade block between the Texans and a prospective suitor. Otherwise, a reconciliation must be struck between Houston and Johnson before relations become too soured to justify keeping him around.
What he's done on the field gives him leverage to seek a fresh start elsewhere, but Johnson has to find another organization positioned to win now that could also absorb the rest of his deal. Since few can manage such a feat, it could even require Johnson to restructure his contract so he's not so much of a burden with regard to the salary cap.
Unless a drastic change is made by either side, Johnson and the Texans could be mired in a parasitic partnership this year. The longer this offseason saga drags on, the more difficult it will be for Houston to buy in as a whole if its best player can't. As for Johnson, his holding out will make it harder to market himself to another team given his sudden change in attitude following years of unwavering loyalty.