What To Do About 'Dre

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Texans trade Andre Johnson? Matt Weston weighs in on this moral crisis confronting Houston Texans fans on Battle Red Blog.

I don't recall monitoring Andre Johnson glide past defensive backs when he sported sea green and baby-food-carrot orange unis at The U. I do remember being electrified at the thought of him playing in Houston.

The morning of the 2003 NFL Draft, I tossed the football to and fro with a kid from the apartment complex named Chad, or maybe it was Eaton, whatever the name, he was a forgotten ghost of one's childhood. One of those kids you hung around with only when boredom reached the extreme depths of loneliness. When we did hang out, we spent most of the time talking about David Carr and how many years it would be until Houston would make the playoffs (1). We agreed that it was only a matter of time. David Carr just needed an offensive line and a top receiver. After that, the entire AFC South would cower in fear. That morning, we yelled back and fourth in giddy voices as the ball traveled in between the interruptions caused by cars that wandered around the complex.

Houston would get the scraps left over after Matt Millen turned the Detroit Lions' pick in. We each agreed that no matter who the Lions took, Houston would be just dandy. Charles Rodgers or Andre Johnson, it didn't matter. According to our optimism, either was going to have a stellar professional career. Mr. Carr would finally get the receiver who would morph his intangible potential into tangible success.

One out of three of those statements came to fruition.

Detroit drafted Charles Rodgers with the second overall pick.  Houston was awarded Andre Johnson at pick number three. It was like crouching in a Long John Silver's dumpster stuffed with half eaten Super Samplers while waiting for the incompetent manager to toss out fresh Maine lobster.

Player Receptions Yards Y/Rec Touchdowns GS Approximate Value
Charles Rogers 36 440 12.2 4 9 4
Andre Johnson 927 12,661 13.7 61 154 113

On April 26, 2003, Andre Johnson fell right into the Texans' lap. He's been a member of the Houston Texans ever since and was expected to spend his entire career here.  Until now.

There are millions of things I hate about sports today, the unrelenting focus on "what's next?", the last two minutes of a NBA playoff game, a possible eighteen game schedule, but the one that pains me the most to see is when the face of a franchise wears a different color.

Jarome Iginla is a Bruin. Paul Pierce is a Net. Peyton Manning is a Bronco. Ichiro Suzuki is a Yankee. Michael Young played for the Phillies and Dodgers. Mike Modano and Daniel Alfredsson played for the Red Wings. Hakeem Olajuwon played for the Raptors. Jerry Rice played for the Raiders. Joe Montana played for the Chiefs. Brett Farve played for the Jets and Vikings.

Each of these players sported vile garments they never should have worn.

There are three reasons why the face of a franchise leaves for another team: a young player is ready to replace him, his skills have begun to deteriorate and he becomes a liability, or the team is not in a position to contend and the player aches for one more chance to win. That's it. Those are the three scenarios that flow as the narrative slowly plays itself out.

In 2011, Peyton Manning missed the entire season due to spinal fusion surgery and the Colts won two games. As a result, Indianapolis was awarded the number one pick. Indy faced a conundrum. Should they draft the greatest quarterback prospect since John Elway and have him sit behind and learn from Manning? Should they start Andrew Luck right away and cut the greatest player in franchise history? Or should they use the first round pick on a position player who could help Manning and the Colts contend again? They opted to draft Andrew Luck, and Manning signed a five year, $96 million dollar deal with Broncos.

Michael Young is the greatest player to wear a Rangers uniform since Pudge Rodriguez. He exemplified the mediocre years of no pitch, all hit Rangers baseball in the 2000s. Year after year, he pounded out 200 hits and year after year, the Rangers would win 70-80 games. Eventually everything came together and the Rangers went to back-to-back World Series in 2010 and in 2011. Yet there was drama in between the pennants.

In 2007, the Rangers pillaged the Braves and traded Mark Teixera and Ron Mahay for Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, and most importantly, Beau Jones.  When Elvis was ready to start in 2009,  they moved Michael Young to third base. Young was salty and asked for a trade. Why should he give up his spot and change positions for a twenty year old kid? He eventually rescinded his trade request and shifted over to third base.

The next year, the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre to play third base, and Young's every day spot in the field dissipated.  The plan was to make him a super utility player who could play third base, first base, second base and DH. Drama arose once again. Young demanded a trade and claimed to be "misled and manipulated". Once spring training rolled around, he accepted the position change and Texas appeared in their first World Series. There he remained until 2012. After a lackluster season, the Rangers asked if Young wanted to be traded since they would be cutting his playing time.  He said no, and the Rangers traded him to Philadelphia anyways. If Young was still an asset to the team, he would have stayed in Texas, but his performance rotted to the point his roster spot became a waste. He retired that year and this past weekend he was honored at Globe Life Park The Ball Park In Arlington for being the franchise leader in games played (1,823), hits (2,230), doubles (441), triples (55), runs scored (1,084), ground balls that traveled past a diving player, and of course, #Leadership.

The final scenario is one we see every year. The veteran heart and soul of the team is traded or signs with another team  because his original team is tearing everything down and building it back up.  Or the face of the organization craves one last chance to play on a contender.

The Brooklyn Nets traded Gerald Wallace and three first round picks for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce grieved by filling his Instagram with fifteen years worth of memories and said goodbye to the only team he ever played for. Karl Malone left Utah to try to escape The Finals demons of Michael Jordan in Los Angleles. They still continued to torment him when the Fro and Co took the series four games to one. Ray Borque was traded to the Avalanche and won a title. The Bruins then threw him a championship parade for winning a title with a different team.

Camp three is the one Andre Johnson falls into. He's the aging veteran who wants one more chance to make a run for a title, and he sees his team is in the introduction stage of a new product cycle.

Dre is thirty-two years old.  When he peers down at the Texans' depth chart, he burps up a batch of acidic vomit and sees:

QB1: Ryan Fitzpatrick

QB2: Case Keenum

QB3: T.J. Yates

QB4: Tom Savage

He has spent the offseason pondering how last year was more unbearable than Cortland Finnegan: the fourteen games lost in a row, screaming at Matt Schaub as his words singed skin on impact like a flesh-melting brand, having Case Keenum limp passes three yards short into the dirt on slant routes, and laughing as Schaub underthrew him by ten yards when he streaked down the sideline.

Last week, the usually quiet Andre Johnson spewed his frustration to reporters:

"Nobody’s been here as long as I have. You just kind of look at things; I’ve been thinking about things this offseason. And I just kind of wonder sometimes, ‘Is this still the place for me?’ "

"When you bring a new coach in, you go through a rebuilding process. Some people say it’s not. Some people say it’s a quick fix. Everybody has their own opinion. But I’ve been through the situation more than once."

"I just look at my career. … I’ve only been to the playoffs twice. I think we’ve only had three winning seasons. I don’t think any player wants to experience that. I think over time it can become very frustrating. And this offseason has been very frustrating for me; beginning of the offseason, I should say. That’s just kind of where I’m at right now."

Who can blame him? He just witnessed Houston refuse to move up one spot to take a franchise quarterback so they could take an offensive guard and a tight end. He sees six wins staring him in the face. He is again consoled by the same phrase, "Don't worry.  Next year will be better. We know what we are doing this time." He knows at age thirty-two he can still ball, but understands the one thing you can't ever get back is time. For Johnson, the bag carrying this precious resource is starting to feel light.

Some are now saying that Andre FREAKING Johnson is spoiled and selfish after hearing these remarks. Loyalty is a two way street, however.

Imagine if you were a sales representative who was the best in the history of the company, but worked underneath a disastrous management team. They hired poorly, executed poor decision after poor decision and their core competency was screwing up. Yet you went every day because a.) you were the best at it b.) you were making plenty of money and c.) you loved the city, the school district, and your home. But now that retirement is drawing near, you think to yourself, why not go somewhere you actually enjoy showing up to? You can still sell Omaha steaks to a lady with pink armpit hair and a bumper sticker titled "FISH ARE FRIENDS, NOT FOOD". So why not take your skills to a company with more smiling faces than empty seats and stock listed on the DOW rather than pink sheets?

Others will say that Houston has a shot to make the playoffs in 2014, and Johnson should stick around for the Bill O'Brien era.

During and after the 2013 season, I wrote and boasted about why the Texans would make the playoffs in 2014. My reasoning was because of the horrendous luck that plagued Houston in 2013.

Turnover Differential Pythagorean Wins Actual Wins Plexiglass Principle One Possession Record Fumble Differential
-20 4.2 2

2012: 12 Wins

2013: 2 Wins

2-9 -5

But this plan entailed improved luck, better head coaching and better quarterback play. With the current quarterback depth chart, the goal for this team is simple. Build on the foundation constructed by the line of the scrimmage and take, trade, or sign a quarterback who can lead this team to the playoffs in 2015 or 2016. Even that is something easier to type than do. 'Dre knows he has two, maybe three, commendable years left in the tank. The Houston Texans' goals and his are not congruent anymore.

If he really wants to leave-let me rephrase that-if the greatest player in franchise history wants to leave--Houston should trade him. It's the least they can do after years of inadequacy. To make sure his last three years don't go to waste like how eight of his eleven had in Houston.

In Houston, the only thing Andre Johnson has to play for this year, and probably next year depending on who the quarterback is, are career milestones. To lock himself into the Hall of Fame, Andre just needs 1,100 yards and 100 more receptions. Barring injuries or horrific quarterback play Johnson will complete these feats this season and jump into the top ten in receptions and yards.  He will be the first Texan emblazoned in Canton.

Dre_yards_medium

Dre_rec_medium

But if he leaves, Andre Johnson will have the chance to leap into the top ten of each of these categories and get a shot to win a title.

As frosty as this makes my eyes and as nauseous as it makes my guts to move my fingers to type this, here it goes. Gulp...I would rather see 'Dre play for a winning team in a different color jersey than watch him laugh and shake his head as Case Keenum misses him by three yards on slant routes or observe him chuckle in diabolical hysteria when Ryan Fitzpatrick under throws him by ten yards on streaks deep down the sideline. It would be better to see him gallop up the record book in the colors of another team instead of farting away the rest of his career in Houston.

Two things are going to have to happen for the Texans to trade Andre Johnson. They would have to find a contender who needs a receiver and is willing to give up appropriate compensation for him (a first round pick, maybe a second; if it was up to me, I would only accept a first) and must be willing to take on at least $10,000,000 this season. Johnson's current contract looks like this:

Year Base Signing Bonus Roster Bonus Option Bonus Restructure Bonus Cap Hit Dead $
2014 10,000,000 469,583 1,000,000 200,000 3,975,000 15,644,583 11,964,166
2015 10,500,000 469.583 1,000,000 200,000 3,975,000 16,144,583 7,319,583
2016 11,000,000 1,000,000 200,000 2,475,000 14,675,000 2,675,000
2017 UDFA

If a team decides they want to trade for 'Dre, they would have to pay his yearly base salary.  That's it. This amounts to $31,500,000 over the next three years. Since this team is only paying the base salary, they can cut Johnson without him affecting their cap figure if he does not perform up to the standards of the contract.

Houston, on the other hand, would pay the entire roster bonus owed once the trade is made. In the chart, this is listed as dead money. When you add up the signing bonus and the restructure bonus, you get a total dead money figure of $11,964,166. Then you subtract this from his cap hit of $15,644,583 (his base and every bonus owed added together) to get a total savings of $3,680,417 for 2014.

Money is not why Houston would trade Andre Johnson, but if they did they would save a little less than $4 million in 2014 and a total of $25,180,417. This would give Houston extra flexibility.  It would make it easier to resign J.J. Watt and Kareem Jackson next offseason and net them a high pick in the 2015 draft.

For a trading partner, Houston would need to find a team that has the following three attributes: be a playoff contender, have $10,000,000 in cap room, and could use one of the best receivers in the league.

Possible_trade_partners_medium

The data comes from Over the Cap. They still have not taken into account rookie contracts, which would subtract five to seven and a half million off the cap space figure. So if a team like Green Bay or Indianapolis wanted to trade for 'Dre, they would need to make an extra move or two to free up the space.

Out of all the candidates, Cleveland-whose number one receiver is Miles Austin and is looking to make a playoff push-Cincinnati-a team with a plethora of slot receivers that could use a true WR2 to play on the other side of A.J. Green-New York Jets-need anotherwide out to join Eric Decker, loves splashy signings, and with improved quarterback play from Geno Smith could win nine games, which is enough to make the playoffs in the AFC-make the most sense as possible landing spots for Johnson (2).

These are all hypothetical, but can't you see 'Dre with his nasal strip on and breath seeping from his mouth as he lines up wide with a duo of latitudinal hunter green stripes traveling up his helmet? Can't you see him guzzling down Skyline Chili in misery after losing in the Wild Card round with Cincinnati?

As a fan, there is no greater feeling than when a player is drafted and spends his entire career with the franchise. It relinquishes some of the other vile issues and confirms why we watch the games. Rarely does this happen. Most of the time, players who become the franchise end up leaving for one of the reasons mentioned before.

We feel disgusted that Jarome Igilna is a Bruin. That Paul Pierce is a Net. That Peyton Manning is a Bronco. That Ichiro is a Yankee. That Michael Young played for the Phillies and Dodgers. That Mike Modano and Daniel Alfredsson played for the Redwings. That Hakeem played for the Raptors.  That Jerry Rice played for the Raiders. That Joe Montana played for the Chiefs. That Brett Farve played for the Jets and Vikings.

It would be like eating a buffet of can openers if Andre Johnson won an AFC North title this year while catching fifteen touchdown passes from Johnny Manziel as we all become Cleveland Browns fans for a year.

But no matter how repugnant it makes us feel, these are still silly feelings. They are important to us as fans, but really they mean nothing to the goals of the team and player. If Andre Johnson does leave, the only thing we lose is the toasty feeling of him spending his entire career wearing one logo on his helmet.

If Andre Johnson wants to leave to get the chance to contend somewhere else, let him do it. He's spent enough time trying in Houston and the team is a quarterback and a year or two away from being a winning team again. Yes, Houston is a worse team without him in 2014 and 2015. Yes, DeAndre Hopkins loses the chance to learn from Johnson and the #Leadership he brings. Yes, it would be gruesome to see him in a different color jersey. Nevertheless, I would rather see Johnson get a shot to catch passes on a possible playoff team than mope on the sideline of a 6-10 one.

When he retires, however, Andre Johnson would still retire as a Texan. He would still be emblazoned in a gold jacket and his bust would read "Andre Johnson, Houston Texans 2003-2013" and no one would be thinking about the two or three years he spent playing somewhere else. If you still do, you can always head to Lacuna Inc, and get those memories removed anyways.


*****

(1) Eight.  It would be eight years.

(2) Green Bay, however, is the team I would not mind sending 'Dre to because of the thought of him finally playing with a top quarterback is joyous. But because of their cap space and Ted Thompson's refusal to trade draft picks, it's probability is near zero.

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