The Best Landing Spots for Andre Johnson
When the Houston Texans were added to the NFL in 2002, their first experience in the draft was less than stellar. David Carr and Jabar Gaffney turned out to not be the offensive skill position duo the franchise needed to get things off the ground.
But when given the chance to redeem themselves a year later, the Texans hit a home run, selecting Miami wideout Andre Johnson with the third pick of the 2003 NFL Draft.
Johnson has been a dominant force since joining the Texans, and has since been the only receiver in franchise history to catch more than 70 passes in a season (a feat he's accomplished seven times). He's also the only Texan receiver to haul in more than 900 yards in one year (he's done that eight times), and he has over 600 more receptions and 8,500 more yards than the next closest player on the career receiving list for Houston.
Johnson has been a servant to the Houston franchise, reworking his contract multiple times to allow the team the cap space to make moves. But sensing major change in Houston, the former Hurricane wideout has taken a less favorable view of his employer, and trade rumors are swirling.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, Johnson is the target of four teams in the trade market, though the Texans are reluctant to part ways with the receiver. But should they choose to not pay him a workout bonus that's currently being disputed by the two parties, they may be left with no choice but to trade him or see him holdout and not play for anyone.
And considering his age and the limited time he has left as a top-tier athlete, it might be the right time to get assets in return for Johnson as the Texans rebuild under Bill O'Brien. So what kind of impact would Johnson have on another team?
Behind the Numbers
Our Net Expected Points data shows that Andre Johnson has been as good as ever in recent seasons, despite growing older and struggling with injuries three years ago.
|Year||Rec||Rec. NEP||Rank||Targets||Rec. NEP per Target|
Johnson has been in the top 15 among receivers in five of the last six seasons, and the sixth year was on pace but sidetracked due to injury.
His per-target numbers have been consistent up until last year's dumpster fire of an offense led to a drop off that was no fault of Andre's. The Texans finished with the 30th-ranked passing offense using our strength-of-schedule adjusted Passing NEP metric, but Johnson still managed to finish in the top 15 among receivers in overall production.
That puts Andre on the Josh Gordon-level of "quarterback agnostic playmakers" at receiver, as he's proven to be capable of playing under any offensive circumstances.
Joe Redemann recently profiled Johnson for numberFire, and came to the same conclusion that I did about the Texans' legend: He's been great, but for how much longer? Receivers don't usually last past 33 or 34, so it's easy to see why Johnson may want to get out and find a contender while he still can.
Shopping Andre Around
So if the Texans cut their losses and try to get some assets in return for Johnson, where should they turn? Considering Johnson's current cap hit, courtesy of Spotrac, and current salary cap figures, courtesy of the NFLPA, there are only a handful of teams who could take on his contract in a trade today.
Among those teams are the Bengals, Browns, Titans, Eagles, Jaguars and Jets. The Eagles would love to add a player of Johnson's caliber, but seem to be pretty set at the receiver position and unlikely to spend on such a luxury player. The Browns and Titans would love to add a player of Johnson's caliber, but if he's unhappy with the rebuilding effort in Houston, he'd hate being in Tennessee or Cleveland.
The Jaguars could use all the talent they can get, but again, this destination would seem to be less than ideal for the veteran receiver. That leaves the Jets, who had an awful offense last season but have added Eric Decker, and the Bengals, who have A.J. Green but could certainly afford to bring in another option to help make Andy Dalton look a bit better.
For New York, adding Johnson would take pressure off of Decker, which our JJ Zachariason says is important considering Decker's preferred role as a secondary option rather than a high-volume leading receiver. Giving him a parter like Andre Johnson could lead to a similar one-two punch to the one we saw in Denver last year, and one that looks a heck of a lot better than a Decker-Stephen Hill starting tandem.
For Cincinnati, adding Johnson would seem a bit unfair for a team that already has big-play capable Marvin Jones to combine with Green. But a deal like this doesn't seem to fit what the Bengals have done in the past, yet would be a perfect situation for Johnson, as it would give him the best chance at a championship of any of the team's listed.
If Johnson is willing to re-work his contract for a chance at a Super Bowl ring, however, that brings two new contenders into the mix. If Johnson is willing to take less money to win it all, the Panthers and Patriots would almost certainly come calling for his services.
Carolina is in desperate need of a top receiver, as Jerricho Cotchery certainly isn't suited to being a good number-one wideout in the NFL anymore (in fact, he's one of the riskiest players in fantasy football this year). The Panthers were an average passing offense last year according to our metrics, but adding a player like Johnson would almost certainly boost them and provide Cam Newton with the best receiver he's ever had.
But New England remains the most attractive option, as they're not in salary cap hell like the Panthers, and have all of the surrounding pieces to win on offense. Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman are ideal complimentary receivers, while Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in football.
The Patriots finished sixth in the NFL in passing last year using our data, and that's with Tom Brady experiencing a "down year." Brady finished with a Passing NEP of 68.71 in 2013, over 100 points fewer than 2011 and 2012, and his first healthy season under 100 Passing NEP since 2006.
So with Brady getting older and on the decline, seeking one last ring of his own, it makes perfect sense for New England to crunch the numbers and find a way to add Andre Johnson. Otherwise, there may not be a destination willing to pay Johnson what he wants and also offer him a chance at his first NFL title.