Turning 33 next month, Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson‘s time is running out. He wants to win, a refreshing chance of pace from those more eager to land a lucrative contract, and is still more than capable of pushing a contender over the top. And he deserves a chance to prove it.
With 109 receptions and 1,407 receiving yards in 2013, catching passes from a trio of quarterbacks — Matt Schaub, Case Keenum and T.J. Yates — who may have combined to produce the worst quarterback situation in the entire league, Johnson left no doubt that he’s still firmly among the best wideouts in the game.
A large-catch radius, propelled by good size and superb athletic ability, and the off-the-line quickness, awareness and body positioning to routinely roast defensive backs with pristine routes, Johnson has still got it — and by it, I’m referring to a Hall-of-Fame skillset.
Greatness, as always, is fleeting. The physical toll an 11-year career can have a player like Johnson could begin to manifest in a drop off in ability any season now. It would be a shame if Johnson’s talent was wasted on yet another rebuilding project, and at the conclusion of it, when the Texans are equipped to win again, his decline, which proves to be expeditious for most aging veterans, begins.
The Texans have settled on Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback heading into 2014. Fitzpatrick, a gunslinger, has 77 games of starting experience under his belt. But he’s not the passer, in a pass-happy league, who is primed to lead the Texans back to the playoffs. He’s not the passer who can maximize Johnson’s skillset.
Frankly, Johnson’s ability has possibly never seen its ceiling; not with the starting quarterbacks he’s been subjected to. Schaub, before his demise in 2013, was a solid pro, but far from elite. And David Carr, Johnson’s first starting quarterback, was mediocre at best. Johnson, like so many other elite receivers, has never had the opportunity to catch passes from a true franchise quarterback.
The NFL is a business. What’s fair doesn’t matter. The Texans believe Johnson makes them a better team, so of course they have no interest in letting him go. And Johnson wouldn’t be the first great player who is never put in ideal position to compete for a Super Bowl, and he certainly won’t be the last.
But if karma has a place in the NFL, Johnson will get his chance to play for a winning team and a vastly superior quarterback. After everything he’s done for the Texans and the game of football, he deserves that chance.
There arguably wasn’t anyone more instrumental in helping the Texans make the jump from pushover expansion team to respectable NFL franchise than Johnson. Beginning in 2007, just five years after the Texans were born, the club won 53 games over a six-season span — not great, but a run of relevancy that put Houston, a city that lost its beloved Houston Oilers in 1997, back on the pertinent NFL map.
Johnson has caught for well over 1,000 yards in every full season he’s played excluding his rookie year, and with a productive season in 2014, could launch himself into the top 10 in career receiving yards — a feat that would bolster his candidacy of becoming the franchise’s first Hall-of-Fame player.
And Johnson has done it all while exemplifying the qualities of a model pro. He’s let his play do the talking and has stayed out of trouble off the field, detaching himself from the diva stigma that follows many other elite receivers.
Thus, holding out, which Johnson is currently doing by skipping OTAs and mandatory minicamp, is an out-of-character move. But it’s a necessary move for Johnson if he wants to win. Most players protest for more money. Johnson’s motives, while still selfish to a degree, are more pure.
Players who value winning so much are seemingly a rare breed in modern professional sports. Those who still embellish a win-first approach should be celebrated.
Still an elite player hungry to do whatever it takes to win, Johnson would be wasted this season if the Texans’ current rebuilding project induces struggles as expected. If for curiosity if nothing else, NFL fans should hope Johnson gets the opportunity to catch passes from an elite quarterback, on a team capable of raising the Lombardi Trophy.
It’s the opportunity he deserves. If karma has a place in the NFL, that is.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.