As the Houston Texans and head coach Bill O’Brien continue to prepare for their first NFL season together, there is growing controversy within the locker room involving one of the cornerstones of the franchise.
Andre Johnson, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and member of four All-Pro teams (two first-team, two second-team selections), has grown discontent with his situation with the team and has begun to express interest in a change of scenery next season, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport (h/t Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk).
According to Rapoport (h/t CSN Houston's Dave Zangaro), Johnson was ready to report for team activities before the Texans decided to not allow him to earn back an unpaid $1 million workout bonus due to his absence during OTAs and a mandatory minicamp in June.
Johnson has not come out and directly demanded a trade, as he told NFL Network in an interview on July 10.
“I just choose not to talk publicly about it,” Johnson said. “It’s in-house, and that’s the way I choose to keep it. I’m not a big media guy, so I won’t, you know, I refuse to talk about it. Training camp is a few weeks away, so we’ll see what happens.”
When asked if he will be in a Texans uniform next year, Johnson had one simple response: “I don’t know. I can’t answer that question.”
The Texans, unsurprisingly, appear reluctant to ship off their all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns (he also owns the team single-season records in all of those categories), as well as their career leader in starts with 154.
At 32 years of age (he'll be 33 on July 11), Johnson is approaching the twilight of his career. He has a lot to contribute to a team at this point in his career, but he has three seasons remaining on his contract with a cap hit over $14 million for the 2014 season ($14,644,583 to be exact, making it the 20th-largest cap hit of any player in the league, per Spotrac.com).
Considering the large cap number, nearly $12 million in dead money on Houston’s books if he were to be dealt, and the fact that he would likely have to restructure his contract if traded, a change of scenery for the seven-time 1,000-yard-producing receiver seems like a long shot.
If, however, Houston receives a convincing offer from a team (which likely would include two or three draft picks, or a conditional second or third, although that could be a pipe dream), they could swallow the dead money on his salary for the next three years as they continue to revamp and find better schematic fits for O’Brien’s offense.
Today, there are nine teams that could take on Johnson’s salary via trade. Those teams, along with their cap room, are listed below.
|NFL Teams with Cap Space for Johnson's Contract|
|Jaguars ($31,759,049)||Titans ($18,968,494)||Dolphins ($15,022,232)|
|Browns ($28,591,144)||Eagles ($18,115,857)|
|Jets ($24,909,227)||Colts ($17,642,415)|
|Bengals ($23,360,135)||Steelers ($16,590,783)|
The Jets have already made multiple moves to address their receiving corps, although Johnson is a big name—and we all know that New York is the prime place for a big name guy to move.
With that said, there are three teams who could push to acquire Johnson, all of which happen to play in the AFC North.
Although it seems unlikely since they are making a conscious effort to go younger, the Steelers are a really intriguing possibility for Johnson.
They went through a number of cost-cutting moves during the offseason to get cap space but still have just over $16 million in uncommitted money in 2014.
With Ben Roethlisberger slowly creeping up there in age (although at 32 he still plays like he's in his 20s), why not give him a go-to target who can make plays all over the field and immediately push Pittsburgh into serious contention?
Pairing with Antonio Brown and the recently acquired Lance Moore would give Pittsburgh a lethal passing attack while developing young receivers like Martavis Bryant and Derek Moye, among others.
The only question is if they want to sacrifice draft picks that could lead to future success in exchange for another season or two of high-level production from Johnson.
The Browns looked to have a potent passing attack if they were able to find a capable quarterback to pair with tight end Jordan Cameron and wide receiver Josh Gordon.
Now, after several arrests, Gordon’s future with the team (and the NFL) is in question.
The addition of Johnson would give the Browns a go-to guy for either Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel, and he has around two or three years left in the tank, which is more than enough time for the organization to figure out what they’re going to do with regard to the Gordon situation.
The question, a similar one to their divisional counterpart Pittsburgh, is if Cleveland wants to deal a valuable mid-round selection in the 2015 draft for a player who may or may not be able to help them get into playoff contention.
The Bengals are by far the most intriguing option for Johnson.
They have over $23 million in cap space and are pushing to make a deep playoff run following exits after Wild Card Weekend in three straight (and four out of five) seasons.
They could offer Houston a conditional second- or third-rounder paired with another mid-round selection and possibly include a young prospect in the deal. Since they have a pretty solidly built roster, they might opt to deal draft picks so they can make a run while their window is still open.
The addition of Johnson would give them a passing attack consisting of him, AJ Green, Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham. That much firepower combined with a solid rushing attack would allow the Bengals to contend with any other team in the AFC, even with Andy Dalton at quarterback.
Side note: There isn’t a quarterback in this league who wants this deal to happen more than Andy Dalton. Bringing in Johnson would not only add a weapon to boost his numbers but will help him shake that label of not being able to get it done in the postseason, all while he tries to convince Bengals brass that he deserves a big contract.
Although there are some intriguing trade scenarios, I think Houston won’t trade Johnson.
The amount of dead money it would leave alone is enough to spurn any possible deal, let alone the possibility of dealing Johnson to another contender, which would cripple their playoff aspirations.