That’s why disgruntled Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson being traded to the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos (now that would be fun) hasn’t happened yet. At this stage in the offseason, it’s difficult to integrate any new player, even someone as great as Johnson.
Plus, it would take a mountainous offer for Houston to move their star wideout to a playoff-caliber team—a first-round draft pick would have to be on the table, as the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain told Bleacher Report in the video below.
It’s easy to see why. While toiling in the midst a miserable quarterback situation last season, Johnson still managed to compile 109 receptions for 1,407 yards. Excluding his injury-riddled 2011 campaign, Johnson has had five straight seasons of 1,200 or more receiving yards, per Pro Football Reference.
He is easily the Texans' best receiver. In fact, he is Houston’s best skill position player, with DeAndre Hopkins still developing and Arian Foster being slowed by injuries as of late.
The departure of Johnson would be catastrophic for Houston’s 2014 aspirations. Once Houston runs Foster into submission, Ryan Fitzpatrick-to-DeAndre Hopkins plays would be an offensive attack even the Jacksonville Jaguars could snicker at. Tied for third in interceptions and 27th in passer rating in 2013, per ESPN.com, the Texans would become even less flattering in 2014.
Johnson is incredibly valuable to the Texans. That is not debatable.
What is debatable is how much other teams are willing to give up for Johnson. For all of his value to an offense lacking in skill position depth, giving up a first-round pick for Johnson isn’t particularly appealing to the contenders he wants to be traded to, per CBSSports.com's Josh Katzowitz.
Johnson has plenty of downside. He is 33 years old. His durability isn’t anything to write home about, missing three or more games in four of his 11 seasons. 2014 will be his first season since 2006 not in a Gary Kubiak-led offense; it is difficult to project him in a new system. Finally, he brings a $14.6 million cap hit, according to Spotrac, and he is unwilling to take a pay cut, per the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
These reasons are stunting Johnson’s trade value. Despite his gaudy statistics, the Texans might have trouble getting more than a fifth-round pick out of trading Johnson, per Sports Talk 790's Lance Zierlein:
A second-round pick is enough of a crapshoot as it is. A fifth-round draft pick would be a heist of epic proportions.
And that is the problem with any sort of trade that includes Johnson—he is much, much more valuable to the Texans than he would be to potential playoff teams. The Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs and Patriots are all teams that could use a top-of-the-line wide receiver, but Carolina and Kansas City need cap space to extend some of their core players, and New England treats draft picks like shares of Google.
The rest of the league’s contenders either have plenty of receivers (Denver), prioritize the running game (Seattle) or feel like a top draft pick and a major cap hit would be too much to sacrifice for a 33-year-old receiver.
If Johnson just wanted to get out of Dodge and didn’t mind wherever he ended up, then the Cleveland Browns could be a suitor, for multiple reasons. Johnny Manziel needs a non-Jordan Cameron target before NFL defenders come and crush his trademark confidence. The Browns have a first-round pick to dangle after the trade with Buffalo, along with their usual plethora of cap space.
That would be Houston’s best chance at getting what they want for Johnson, but the Texans’ greatest offensive player wants to land with a contender. Sending him to NFL purgatory would simply be disrespectful.
A trade with Cleveland also wouldn’t fit in with Houston’s long-term plans. The Texans are not the Philadelphia 76ers. They do not want to stockpile assets until they win the lottery. They want to win soon, while J.J. Watt is still destroying galaxies and Jadeveon Clowney is thriving right alongside him.
It was just two years ago when the Texans reached the divisional round in the playoffs, and if Johnson isn’t there to shoulder the offensive load during their rebuilding process, that sets the team back even further.
Extra cap space doesn’t matter if the team in question doesn’t have anyone worthy to spend it on—look at the Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers these past few seasons. That’s why Houston needs Johnson more than any other team. That’s why he has first-round value to them.
For the rest of the NFL, that likely means Johnson is out of the question, at least for now. Despite Johnson’s Hall of Fame-worthy receiving ability, his age, massive contract and injury history simply make him too much of a risk for the league’s Super Bowl contenders.
Johnson does have first-round value. However, that value is good for only one team—the team he has been looking to escape from this entire offseason. For everyone else, anything pricier than a third-round pick isn’t worth the trouble.