If you didn’t think Andre Johnson was serious about his future with the Houston Texans, the release of his contract showing him missing the OTAs causes him to lose $1 million should be proof enough of his stance.
Johnson won’t attend the Texans’ mandatory minicamp Tuesday through Thursday, his adviser and uncle Andre Melton said Monday. While Johnson’s absence was expected, Melton’s comments confirmed the seven-time Pro Bowler remains at odds with the Texans and there’s no immediate end in sight to the stalemate.“Right now, that’s all that he can do,” Melton said. “We’ve done what we can do, so we’re just sitting there waiting.”
Johnson now will be eligible to be fined for $70,000 in fines if he misses all three days, as expected. He already has missed all of the team’s voluntary minicamp dates up until now.
Although Johnson hasn’t exactly pinpointed his reason for staying away, he has hinted that he’s frustrated with losing and fears that the team will be mired in a rebuilding situation under new head coach Bill O’Brien.
It’s possible the Texans could trade Johnson to a contender, but his contract could make that a bit difficult. Right now, Johnson has a base salary of $10 million for the 2014 season, with a salary-cap figure of $15.6 million. He has a total of $31.5 million in base salaries over the next three seasons combined on his current deal.
Even though Johnson is set to turn 33 in less than a month, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Despite the struggled of former starter Matt Schaub and a midseason quarterback change to Case Keenum, Johnson put up strong numbers — 109 catches, 1,407 yards, five touchdowns — during the Texans’ stunning 2-14 season. Johnson had 1,598 receiving yards in 2012, too.
But the Texans’ quarterback situation remains muddled with Ryan Fitzpatrick likely battling with Keenum and fifth-round pick Tom Savage for starting duties. T.J. Yates, who won the first franchise playoff game as a replacement for Schaub in 2011, also is on the roster.
Would Johnson come back if Mallett was behind center? I can’t say for certain he would, but having a quarterback with upside would probably get him more excited than Fitzpatrick under center. Fitzpatrick is solid, but the Texans offense looks likely to depend on the running game. Johnson doesn’t want to block for 60% of the game and only get seven targets a game at his age.
Whether that would change with a different quarterback remains to be seen. Mallet is far from a proven quarterback, but if you’re asking me, I’d prefer to have Mallett throwing to me than Fitzpatrick.
If Johnson retires (and he might), he faces no fines — but he may have to surrender $8.694 in previously paid bonus money that was prorated for cap purposes. That’s the biggest difference between Johnson’s potential retirement and former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer’s decision to call it quits in Cincinnati three years ago. With all previously paid bonus money earned, the Bengals were unable to recover any cash from Palmer. If Johnson retires, the Texans could play hardball.
At a certain point, it would be unfair to make Johnson pay back money. Last September, he agreed to convert $5.5 million of his base salary to signing bonus for cap purposes. That created $4.125 million in space that the team needed, at a time when Johnson could have insisted on his full salary. Unless his contract exempts the unearned portion of the bonus from forfeiture, Johnson could be required to give back $4.125 million.
In hindsight, Johnson possibly wishes he had. For now, his gratuity gives the team extra leverage, if his commitment to his position ends in a retirement.