Houston Texans: 5 Best Options to Replace Andre Johnson This Offseason
Matt Fitzgerald of Bleacher Report outlined the current conditions surrounding the wide receiver’s contract situation in an article published Wednesday. It started off with a tweet from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport stating Johnson would be on the “roster bubble” if he would not agree to a pay cut.
A Team Stream video featured Jason Cole saying even though a pay cut was in the mix, in the end “the belief is strong they will cut him altogether.”
Former sports agent Joel Corry of CBSSports.com had previously weighed in, stating Johnson would “likely resist efforts” to agree to the kind of restructuring Larry Fitzgerald signed Feb.18. The new deal guaranteed Fitzgerald $11 million over each of the next two years while saving the Arizona Cardinals $13 million in cap space.
Looking at it from Johnson’s perspective, who can blame him? The best player in franchise history has taken one for the team on so many occasions it’s hard to keep count. The last two instances helped sign quarterback Matt Schaub and linebacker Brian Cushing to extensions back when the Texans were playoff contenders.
Asking Johnson to compare himself to Fitzgerald in any respect would be a bad move. It would lead to the realization Fitzgerald has earned $118 million during his 11-year career while Johnson has yet to break $90 million in 12 seasons. This is not the time to request more generosity from someone who is likely feeling underpaid and underappreciated.
Now the discussion turns to who will fill Johnson’s role. Head coach Bill O’Brien is not looking for a No. 1 receiver to take his place. Johnson's reduction in targets last season as compared to 2013 might have been an indication the time had come to transition to DeAndre Hopkins.
If the cap space allowed, it would be great to be in the hunt for Demaryius Thomas, Jeremy Maclin, Dez Bryant or Randall Cobb. Lacking that capability, a complementary receiver would be sufficient to balance out the lineup.
These are the best of the options to consider for that position.
A couple of the candidates have dealt with an experience common to a majority of NFL receivers. They have had to play with quarterbacks of varying competency.
Nate Washington, an unrestricted free agent, is a prime example. He was fortunate enough to win a ring with Ben Roethlisberger as the third receiver of the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers. His roster of retreads includes Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst—along with rookies Jake Locker and Zach Mettenberger.
This is, as you will see, one of the better groups of passers that worked with our options. For example, Collins and Hasselbeck each led a team to the Super Bowl. More important is the consistency Washington displayed despite the instability at quarterback.
Since becoming a starter after five seasons in the league, he averaged 51 receptions for 768 yards and four touchdowns over the next six seasons. He will be 32 when the 2015 season begins, though last year his 40 receptions averaged 16 yards apiece. Anything over 15 yards qualifies you as a deep threat considering the dink-and-dunk monotony of today's numerous four-yard, check-down passes.
As further proof of his ability to get downfield, his yards after catch was just 139 out of 637 total yards, according to Pro Football Focus. This means he was catching his passes well past the line of scrimmage, showing the ability to get open and stay open.
Washington has at least a couple of good years left in him, about what was expected out of Andre Johnson. No team will pay anything close to the $4.8 million Spotrac showed him earning in 2014. Two years for about half that amount would acquire a veteran who could school the player who will ultimately take his place.
Denarius Moore has been saddled more by the consistently inept Oakland Raiders organization than a parade of pathetic passers. Three head coaches and three offensive coordinators in the four seasons of his career is just how things get done in the banana republic that once epitomized a "Commitment to Excellence."
The real uncertainty in Moore’s game lies within his hands. If he could learn how to secure the ball, Antonio Brown would have some serious competition for the most dangerous deep threat in the game.
The Raiders were on their way to tying the score late in their Week 3 game against the New England Patriots. With the ball on the Patriots’ 12-yard line, Derek Carr hit Moore right in the hands. The ball ricocheted, hit a couple of New England players and was intercepted by Vince Wilfork.
That play basically ended his career as a Raider. He only had seven targets over the next five games then spent the rest of the season on the bench.
According to Sporting Charts, the drop rate for Moore was just 1.3 percent in his rookie season of 2011. It shot up to 7.9 percent in 2012, the year he scored a career-high seven touchdowns. His rate was 7.0 percent in 2013, but Wes Welker (9.0), Cecil Shorts (8.1) and Brandon Marshall (7.3) all had a higher percentage of drops.
By 2014, his confidence was shot. The word from Rotoworld after the season was all Moore can expect out of free agency is a non-guaranteed contract.
The Texans have not had a burner at receiver since Jacoby Jones was run out of town. Unless they draft a prospect with 4.4 speed like Moore, why not bring him in on a make-good deal and see if he responds to a different environment and some better coaching.
Cecil Shorts has been down the same road as Nate Washington when it comes to quarterbacks. Luke McCown, Chad Henne, Blaine Gabbert and Blake Bortles have been his field generals, and the results have not been pretty. The most wins he has experienced in a season is five in his rookie year of 2011, when he caught two passes.
When he finally had some regular playing time the next season, he led the team with seven touchdowns to go with 55 receptions and 979 yards. Sadly, his yardage and touchdowns decreased in 2013 and again in 2014.
Now, Shorts is a free agent, and Spotrac says the Jags have over $60 million in cap space to spend. Surely some of it should come his way, right?
Perhaps he has the patience to wait through the never-ending rebuilding project this franchise has become. Or would he rather join the Indianapolis Colts, replace Reggie Wayne and compete with T.Y. Hilton to be Andrew Luck’s favorite receiver? Another team with cap space and a great quarterback is the Green Bay Packers, who could be losing Randall Cobb.
Or maybe Shorts would like to head down Interstate 10 and sign with a divisional foe that took a seven-win jump in one season? True, the quarterback situation is a bit unsettled, but the Texans seem to be on the right track.
Houston could use a receiver who is a cross between a possession guy and a seam-buster. Someone who is not too big (6'0", 200 lbs) to play the slot and just fast enough to play outside the numbers, if needed. After all, he had the second-best yards-per-reception average in the league for 2012.
And if Shorts signs with the Texans, he won’t have to worry about what life is like in London.
In the mind of Bucky Brooks, NFL media analyst, the best option to replace Andre Johnson is still in college. He thinks the Texans might take DeVante Parker with the 16th pick in the 2015 draft. As Brooks put it, “With Andre Johnson nearing the end of his career, the Texans could opt for the sure-handed Parker as a successor.”
Lance Zierlein, longtime Houston sports radio host, uses his extensive knowledge of the game to provide draft analysis for NFL.com. His breakdown of Parker highlights his “daunting catch radius” and how he “produces explosive plays without top-end speed.” On the downside, he has “very average suddenness out of breaks” and “routes are inconsistent and sometimes lack sharpness.”
While Parker did not put up huge numbers at Louisville, his receptions were productive. He had 43 catches for 855 yards and five touchdowns. His 19.9-yard average per reception is the most eye-catching statistic. At 6’3”, 209 pounds, he is not the class of Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green, but he still towers over the average defensive back.
The 4.45 40-yard time Parker posted at the combine would make him the fastest receiver on the Texans outside of Keshawn Martin, who has yet to distinguish himself in his three NFL seasons. If Parker is as good as his ranking, his impact should be noticeable within his first three games.
All the possibilities offered so far have been wide receivers. The game is changing in ways that are making the tight end position more important than anyone might have thought.
When Jimmy Graham argued he should be compensated at the same rate as a wide receiver, it centered on what defines a football position. In the end, the definition seemed to matter less than the fact Graham ended up with biggest contract for a tight end in league history.
The way football is played today, there are often five receivers on the field, and their designation pertains to who should end up being the recipient of the ball. What position is listed in the program is of little importance.
This is not to say someone listed as a tight end could do what Andre Johnson did so for so long. It does bring up the possibility that a tight end could end up being the leading receiver on the team. Jimmy Graham has led the New Orleans Saints two of the last four seasons, as did Tony Gonzalez for seven out of 10 seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Could Clive Walford end up being that kind of player for the Texans? NFL.com's Lance Zierlein says Walford “has lined up in-line, slot and as an H-back” and “has the physical build and enough quickness to threaten the seam.”
The “Bottom Line” for Walford does not project him as the next Graham or Rob Gronkowski. "He lacks the elite athletic traits to be a game-changer at the position, but he is becoming a premium blocker," Zierlein writes.
So will Walford excel as a blocker as opposed to developing into a receiving threat? The Texans seemed to flame out with 2014 third-round pick C.J. Fiedorowicz as their do-it-all tight end. Will they risk the second-round choice it might take to corral Walford?
It would be surprising if they did, even if he looks like a safer bet than Fiedorowicz. On a team that had a hard time figuring out what to with its existing tight ends, it sure would be fun to bring in a wild card like Walford.