Rather than release David Johnson to save a little more than $6 million in cap space, the Texans decided to restructure his contract to keep him in Houston for the 2021 season at a price up to $6 million, with at least $4.25 million guaranteed. It’s a baffling move. It’s something that no one can make sense of. For this week’s GroupThink, I asked the masthead the following question:
Can you give one reason why the Texans decided to keep Johnson instead of releasing him?
As always, these are their responses:
David Johnson is 29 years old. He’s old, slow, can’t break tackles, has poor vision in an outside zone offense, doesn’t create additional yards after contact, and saw most of his receiving production came on dump-off passes in the flat with no one around him.
Bill O’Brien attempted to make him a focal point of their offense. The Texans went 0-4 to start the season with Johnson’s carries taking priority over Deshaun Watson playing out of the spread. It was one of the main reasons why O’Brien ended up being the first head coach fired last season. During this stretch, Johnson had one good run, a nice bounce wide to score in Week One against Kansas City. Last season, David Johnson had one good game, when he was able to run free through the line of scrimmage against light Bengals boxes created by Houston’s spread passing game—oh, and Cincinnati is notorious for their terrible linebacker play.
David Johnson was the main running back on the worst run offense in football by DVOA in 2020. He finished 46th in success rate. He’s old. He’s slow. He’s bad. He’s a shell of the player he was, back when he had his last great season in 2016.
Not only that, but Johnson is a luxury the Texans can’t afford. Houston is without their first and second round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, with only $16 million in cap space and holes all over their defense. Paying this much for a running back is a terrible mistake. Paying this much for a crappy running back is an unbelievably poor decision. Johnson’s money should go to a pass rusher, a starting center, or a new cornerback. Instead, the Texans have decided to waste his salary.
The decision to turn DeAndre Hopkins into David Johnson and a second round pick was a complete and total failure. Houston turned a no-doubt top talent, a future Hall of Famer, the type of wide receiver who can carry an offense entirely on his own, into the Cardinals’ worst running back, a player worse than both Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds, the right to draft Ross Blacklock, and the ability to turn their second second round pick into Brandin Cooks.
It was another horrendous mistake in the long line of horrendous mistakes this franchise has recently made. Keeping David Johnson for another season is a failure to admit failure. Jack Easterby and Bill O’Brien were wrong. Easterby is still wrong. Nick Caserio is now wrong. Releasing Johnson would have been the correct decision to improve a team that still, for now, claims Deshaun Watson is their quarterback. Keeping Johnson is nothing more than the clown readjusting his wig.
Deciding to lie to oneself instead of accepting reality is the only reason David Johnson is still in Houston.
No, only terrible rationalizations.
The only reason is the most cynical, yet correct, reason. Jack Easterby didn’t want Ross Blacklock to be the only remaining “compensation” left on the roster for DeAndre Hopkins one season after one of the worst trades in sports history. The end.
The money saved/lost in cutting David Johnson versus restructuring is 100% irrelevant to the question, because Johnson is BAD. If he was good, or even a little bit good, you could do some verbal twisting and say hey— leadership from a veteran in a young running back room, good in the passing game, etc. But David Johnson is not any of those things anymore (which everyone, other than BOB and Jack, knew before the Texans traded for him).
They should have absolutely just cut David Johnson because he is a known (BAD) entity. In a rebuilding situation, I would rather spend money on drafted or undrafted rookie running backs that have potential than ONE DOLLAR more than that for the rotting carcass of David Johnson and whatever is left in him.
This is yet another example of proof that one or both of the following is undoubtedly true:
1) Jack Easterby outranks Nick Caserio in personnel matters; and/or...
2) Nick Caserio is just doing something for his buddy, which irrefutably makes him a bad GM.
Upon hearing this news, I could only think of a guy in Vegas who is at the tables and having already lost a significant amount of money, still feels that he can win. He keeps doubling down and increasing the bets when even the dealers are telling him that it is probably best to just take the loss and not make it worse. David Johnson’s contract and his lack of effective production in 2020 made him a surefire cap casualty. When the Texans made noise about wanting to bring him back, I was not thrilled but had hope that if they did, it would be one of those cuts who came back on a very team-friendly deal.
That just goes to show you that placing faith in the Texans’ front office is like placing faith in a foundation of warm mud. While there are some cap savings to be found (shaving over $2M off his original deal), giving him a guarantee of $4.5M, especially given the underwhelming production last season, seems excessive. If the team is trying to purge dead weight and free up cap space, they would have been better served with a complete cut.
This goes back to the Vegas parallel. The McEasterby consortium was condemned (rightfully so) for the trade that brought in David Johnson. While it cost BO’B his job, this has a feel of trying to double down on a bad move. Maybe McEasterby received a collective sign from above that they needed to keep David Johnson. Maybe Cal wants to show the doubters who programmed the trade function in Madden that yes, trading DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson was actually a good trade, one that could be made. Either way, the only certainty in the weeks ahead is that the Texans are probably not through making head-scratching moves, the ones that don’t show they are playing 11-D chess, but the ones that show they struggle with the directions in Chutes and Ladders.
Entropy? Otherwise I got nothing.
David Johnson is probably a great guy. He’s probably the sort of man you’d want living next door to you. The kind of guy you want your kids looking up to as a role model. The NFL needs more players like that.
To that end, he’s probably a solid culture fit for Jack Easterby’s professional cult and in the end, Johnson’s not a terrible running back. From the outside looking in, there’s not a lot of logic in keeping him around, and there’s more reasons to offshore him. However, things like this often happen because the decision maker simply likes the player.
Everyone has probably had a co-worker who was below average at their job based on what they were paid, but the boss kept them around because they were likeable. In the end, if you could divorce Johnson from the waking nightmare that is the DeAndre Hopkins trade, and this deal was negotiated when Johnson first joined the team, it might be a lot more palatable. But just as Easterby and Caserio potentially kept Johnson around because they like him, they should expect the fan base to have opposite feelings because Hopkins is playing for the Arizona Cardinals.