Andre Johnson Has Returned, but What Does It Change?

Jeffery RoyContributor IIIJuly 28, 2014

Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson (80) walks on the field during an NFL football training camp practice Sunday, July 27, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Andre Johnson reported to the opening of the Houston Texans training camp on July 25, ending his holdout of nearly two months. The reasons Johnson decided to return to the team are as secretive as those that caused the holdout.

In a press conference held shortly after the veterans reported, Johnson insisted any conversations with Texans management would remain confidential. "I keep what we talked about between me and them, and that's pretty much it."

The simplest explanation revolved around money, just as all holdouts do. In keeping with his image as a committed football warrior, Johnson would never publicly admit to being a mercenary.

Was not making quarterback a priority in the draft the problem?

It’s not about that. Like I said, I had bigger concerns. All that happened, it doesn’t matter. I’m here… I'll work my butt off like I always have over the past years to get ready to play some football.

Those concerns may have been addressed if what Ian Rapoport tweeted is accurate.

Andre Johnson received an “understanding of where Texans are going & of his own future & security,” source says. Hint he’ll be there in 2015

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 25, 2014

Does this mean all it took were some private assurances to convince the most enduring star on the team to show up? 

On the same day Johnson reported, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle posted an article titled, “A behind-the-scenes look at how Andre Johnson, Texans made peace.” McClain stated Texans owner Bob McNair “assured Johnson the Texans have no intentions of cutting him after this season and that the owner expects him to finish his career with the Texans.”

However, Johnson “wanted his 2015 salary to be guaranteed, but the Texans declined.”

This may have been the point of contention stretching back to June 16. That was when Johnson announced he would not attend the Texans mandatory minicamp, forfeiting a $1 million workout bonus.

Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle spoke with Andre Melton, Johnson’s uncle and adviser, in an attempt to clarify the circumstances surrounding the decision. Nothing seemed to be happening that would resolve this impasse.

“Right now, that’s all that he can do,” Melton said. “We’ve done what we can do, so we’re just sitting there waiting.”

Smith was interviewed by Matt Thomas of Sports Talk 790 in Houston on the day of Johnson's announcement and provided his insights on why the Texans would not grant the financial security he was seeking.

We’ve really seen this in the last couple years. The moment you hit that age barrier... They can look at you and (say) we can get somebody who’s younger than you, who’s healthier, who costs $10 million less. And our system can go get us 60 receptions and 1,000 yards and we’ve see that with the Patriots the last few years.

The second when Belichick and the front office realizes that the cost efficiency isn’t there, they cut that player and move on… And it’s not a coincidence that you look at the Texans and where this offense is moving that it’s going to be a system-based offense, it’s not going to be a player-based offense.

This personnel philosophy Bill O‘Brien was exposed to during his time with New England could not have escaped Johnson’s notice. Did this make the greatest Texan of them all insecure about his place on the team?

General manager Rick Smith realizes Johnson will have the third-highest cap hit ($16.145 million) among wide receivers next year, according to Spotrac (subscription required for Premium access). A guarantee of that magnitude is not only a risky business proposition but would set an unacceptable precedent for other contract negotiations.

The primary risk is Johnson will be 34 in 2015, an age when even the greatest wide receivers start to slow down. Listed below are the 11 retired wide receivers ranked ahead of Johnson on the career receptions leaderboard. The year is when they had their last season of at least 1,000 yards and their age when it occurred.

Pro Football Reference

The average of 34.5 is the point where the production of even the best players begins to fall. This number is skewed somewhat by 40-year-old Jerry Rice and four 35-year-olds.

A 1,000-receiving-yards season may seem like an easily achievable benchmark. The exceptional standard set by Johnson over four of the last six seasons, 100-plus receptions combined with over 1,400 yards, has been matched over that same period only one time (Calvin Johnson, 2012).

The offensive design being implemented by head coach/offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is supposed to put more emphasis on the ground game. The days of the Texans offense requiring 100-plus catches and 1,400-plus yards from a single receiver could be a thing of the past.

History does offer some evidence that having such a player is not an absolute necessity. The only Super Bowl winner that had a receiver with 100 or more receptions was the 1994 San Francisco 49ers.

Now that Andre Johnson is back in the fold, the only change in the immediate future would be his role on the field. He is still a top-notch threat at his position. More importantly, just how far does the continued support of the team’s owner go?

As Brian T. Smith reminded the listeners in his Sport Talk 790 interview:

If you look at 2010, they went through this entire dance that was very similar. And Andre came out of it with a much better contract…He’s not that age anymore, you’re not going to guarantee the remainder of his contract… But it’s all coming down to 2015…When this happened before, one person came through in the end and say, ‘Hey Andre, you’re a Texan.

That was not Gary Kubiak, Rick Smith, his uncle or his agent. That was Bob McNair.

This time Mr. McNair committed nothing financially and may have offered little more than an agreement in principle. Johnson received a standing ovation upon his return but has little else to show for the additional time off. It will take some time to tell if it was worth it.