Andre Johnson is known around the league as an anti-diva, a soft-spoken player who does his job, does it well, and doesn’t find the need to gloat or cause problems. Which is why the recent wedge — which is quickly widening into a chasm — between Johnson and the Houston Texans came as a surprise.
Johnson skipped the team’s early offseason workouts, costing him a cool million dollars. When he asked for a way to make up the lost time and earn back his money, the Texans told him no. Rather than take that pay cut, Johnson has requested a trade from the rebuilding franchise, and four teams are reportedly interested.
Unfortunately, the market for 33-year-old wide receivers who are making nearly $15 million a year for the next three seasons isn’t great, even if that wide receiver is coming off Pro Bowl appearances in five of his last six seasons.
Johnson is at the age when star wide receivers start breaking down. Randy Moss captured a total of 827 yards after his 33rd birthday for the remainder of his career while playing for four different teams. Chad Ochocinco brought in 276 yards for the Patriots in his 33rd year and retired after that season. And while receivers like Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens have bucked that trend, few wideouts are productive past their mid-thirties. (This is the part where you say, “Jerry Rice!” and I say, “Yes, Jerry Rice.”)
Johnson is entering the twilight of his career, which is why it makes sense for him to want to pursue a Super Bowl ring. He will probably stay with the Texans, in part because it is rare for wideouts over 30 to get traded (Moss sets the precedent here. He was dealt back to the Vikings for a third-round pick at age 33 after a 1,200-yard season with the Pats) and Houston is reportedly set on keeping him.
But that’s no fun. Keeping salary cap figures in mind, here are the destinations that make the most sense for Johnson in 2014.
Do I even need to explain this one? Josh Gordon will most likely be suspended by the NFL later this month after he failed a drug test and was arrested on a DWI charge. Meanwhile, the Browns need to figure out how to develop Johnny Football with Miles Austin and Nate Burleson as the top two wideouts on the team. Both are in their thirties, and they combined for just 705 receiving yards in 2013.
Jordan Cameron will help, but wide receiver has suddenly become a need for the team that passed on Sammy Watkins in the draft two months ago. What’s more, Cleveland has a war chest of assets (10 draft picks next year, including two first-rounders) and more than $28 million in cap space that it could use to acquire Johnson.
Like the Browns, the Eagles are going into this season one star wide receiver short. They released DeSean Jackson even though he is coming off the best year of his career.
Also like the Browns, Philly has more than enough cap space to accommodate Johnson without restructuring his contract, something he has done in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
This union makes sense. The Eagles would get a tall wide receiver who is an excellent route runner — the perfect complement to Jeremy Maclin, who is a prototypical burner. That’s not to say that Johnson isn’t fast, too — he is. He’s good at everything, really. And with the Eagles, he would get a chance to join a team that is already a contender in a weak division.
This is my favorite match because of reasons that have almost nothing to do with football. Despite being a fellow redhead, I am done with Andy Dalton. Sorry, Red Rifle.
In this admittedly manipulative scenario, I can see Johnson’s arrival in Cincy bringing about the end of Dalton Days. Right now Dalton is making $1 million a year, and he’s heading into the final year of his rookie contract. After this season, the Bengals will have to decide whether they want to pay him or move on. If Cincinnati locks him up, it’ll be in a similar situation to the Ravens, with too much money allocated to the QB position.
Even if you give Dalton Andre Johnson and A.J. Green, I still think he’s a mediocre quarterback. Maybe you do this just to make moving away from him that much more justifiable. Obviously this is a gamble, but why not take it? In 2015, Cincinnati could have one of the best receiving corps in the league for whatever new QB is brought in.
Either way, this is all just a flimsy pretext to get Johnson and Green to play together. Who doesn’t want to see that?
This is the obvious one.
The Texans can fine Johnson $30,000 for every day of training camp he misses, and soon they’ll begin to recoup portions of his signing bonus, which is huge due to the way Johnson restructured his contract in recent years.
Forcing a trade is just too expensive an endeavor for Johnson. If he holds out for six days of training camp it will end up costing him more than $600,000 in signing bonus money, and more than $4.4 million if he holds out during the season. If the Texans are serious about keeping him, they hold the upper hand.
Riley McAtee (@Riley_McAtee) is a Grantland intern.