Andre Johnson has joined the list of names that could hit free agency this offseason. The standout wide receiver has asked to be traded or cut, and if the Houston Texans can’t work out a deal, they will release him, according to reports out of Houston.
“It’s business,” said Johnson to the Houston Chronicle. “I understand that side of it. I’m not angry about it. I knew at some point in time this day would come.
“If we were living in a perfect world, you know I’d want to finish my career here, but, unfortunately, that’s not what’s going to happen. You just have to move forward.”
Johnson has spent his whole career with Houston, joining the team in 2003, a year after the Texans came into existence. He has caught over 1,012 passes for 13,597 yards in 12 seasons, and he’s still a productive player at 33 years old, catching 85 passes for 936 yards from the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett and Case Keenum last season. However, head coach Bill O’Brien recently told Johnson that he’d have a reduced role in 2015, which led Johnson to request a trade. The emergence of burgeoning star DeAndre Hopkins as the Texans' No. 1 receiving option may have made Johnson a bit more expendable.
Moving on from Houston could also give Johnson a chance to win, something he hasn’t done much of with the Texans. He's made just two trips to the playoffs, both of which ended in losses in the divisional round.
Johnson is set to make $21.5 million over the next two seasons, and the Texans would save $8.82 million in salary cap space by trading or cutting him this year. Considering Johnson’s age, salary, and the fact that teams know he could soon be released, it might not be easy for the Texans to deal him. Either way, it appears he’ll be playing for a new team next season.
There will be no shortage of suitors for Johnson, but some teams stand out as potential landing spots.
If Johnson wants to win a Super Bowl, fews teams would give him a better chance of doing so than the Seahawks. After reaching the championship game in two consecutive years, Seattle is favored to win the title next season. Seattle had the league’s best defense for the last two seasons, and Marshawn Lynch gives the offense one of the best running backs in all of football.
Russell Wilson has proven to be one of the most effective, young quarterbacks in the NFL, but he struggled, at times, without an elite wide receiver. Doug Baldwin led the Seahawks last year with 825 receiving yards, and the offense lacked a 900-yard receiver when they won the Super Bowl. Johnson would immediately become Wilson’s top option, satisfying his desire to be a No.1 wide receiver on a championship-caliber team.
Assuming Peyton Manning returns and is healthy for the 2015 season, the Broncos should be among the AFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl. The AFC West champions put the franchise tag on Demaryius Thomas, and should have a top defense next year, making Denver an attractive option for Johnson. Denver may consider pursuing Johnson since No. 3 receiving option Julius Thomas is a free agent.
Johnson wouldn’t be the No.1 option in Denver, playing alongside Demaryius Thomas, but he could still put up big numbers. Both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders caught more than 100 passes for over 1,400 yards in 2014, while four Broncos caught 10 or more touchdown passes in the previous season. A reunion with Gary Kubiak could also be ideal for Johnson, considering the head coach made certain that Johnson was a major part of the Houston Texans’ offense when he was with the team.
The Panthers finished below .500 last season, but they managed to win the division, as well as a playoff game. In a weak NFC South, adding Johnson could make Carolina the favorite to finish in first place for a third consecutive season.
The Panthers ranked 19th in passing offense last year, led by rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Tight end Greg Olsen managed to post 1,008 yards, but Carolina had the worst wide receiver depth of any team that made the playoffs. Cam Newton’s fourth NFL season might have been his worst as a passer, and Carolina is reportedly seeking to upgrade his potential targets, making them one of the top candidates that would be willing to spend money on Johnson in free agency.
New England Patriots
Signing with the defending Super Bowl champions would boost Johnson's chances of going deep into the playoffs. Johnson hasn’t been blessed with great quarterbacks in his career, and joining the Patriots would give him a chance to catch passes from possibly the best signal caller of all time. Tom Brady has thrived on the few occasions that he’s had a legitimate No.1 wide receiver, setting multiple records when the team acquired Randy Moss.
Rob Gronkowski will enter the 2015 season as the top receiving option, but adding Johnson would be an upgrade that would significantly help New England. Julian Edelman has done a good job for the Patriots in the last few years, but he’s not a prototypical No. 1 wide out. It wouldn’t be easy for New England to sign Johnson, since they are currently over the salary cap, but they can make a few moves to give themselves a chance to consider a deal.
The Raiders might be the least likely option of any legitimate suitor, since they were one of the NFL’s worst teams last year and haven’t made the playoffs since 2002. Still, they have a lot to offer that could intrigue Johnson.
Only the Jacksonville Jaguars have more than the nearly $55 million that Oakland has to spend under the cap, and they can offer Johnson a sizeable deal. With their ability to add several free agents this offseason, the Raiders could be much improved from last year, though not a Super Bowl contender, and Johnson would clearly be Derek Carr’s No.1 option. He would be a major part of the Raiders’ offense, and he could play with Carr, whom he’s had a relationship with for years.
The Raiders are expected to be an improved team under new head coach Jack Del Rio, though their chances to reach the postseason remain slim.