Andre Johnson is a special player worth special consideration. The Texans don't have to give it to him and haven't seemed inclined to so far. They have all the leverage in this situation. In my view, the Texans made a mistake by taking a hard-line stance against Johnson thus far. We'll see if that softens during the next week.
The one person in the organization who handled this exactly as he should have is head coach Bill O'Brien. He talked constantly about the respect he has for Johnson and his career. It was a message to the rest of the team as much as a message to Johnson.
Johnson is one of the most respected players throughout the league and certainly in his own locker room. Having him back will be a boon for his teammates. They'll have back a guy whose work and method many have tried to emulate as they've come into the NFL.
The seven-time Pro Bowl receiver arrived at the Texans' facility to learn the team's new offense on Monday, sources told ESPN.com.
It's unclear whether Johnson will report to training camp with the other veterans on Friday, but his appearance at the facility was a positive development.
Rookies and injured players were required to report on Monday. The first practice of training camp will be Saturday at 8:30 a.m.
Johnson skipped organized team activities and a minicamp, both of which were voluntary, and missed the Texans' mandatory minicamp in June. He was frustrated at the prospect of entering what he thought might be another rebuilding season for the Texans.
He is the longest-tenured player on the team, having been drafted third overall in 2003. In May, Johnson made his frustrations public, saying he wasn't sure he still wanted to be part of the Texans organization.
Despite his absence, Johnson remained in contact with first-year Texans coach Bill O'Brien, whose public comments about Johnson have been consistently positive. O'Brien said he had no concerns about Johnson being able to pick up the team's offense when he did arrive.
Williams wrote this on twitter:
"I want to thank the Texans and the city of Houston for the great opportunity! It didn't work out how anyone planned, but I am still the same player who was drafted last year. Right now the key is getting healthy and getting back on this horse--don't worry about me I'll be back soon! Thanks for your prayers and support I am truly blessed. You can't keep the the GBO down."
Sam Montgomery had been singled out by one of his college coaches as not being a hard worker. His interviews during the combine led many NFL personnel people to stay away from him. On the field, Montgomery couldn't manage the transition to outside linebacker and was moved to defensive end. His maturity was always in doubt, and proved to be insurmountable for the defensive end/linebacker who was released in the middle of last season.
Williams didn't have off-the-field concerns. But there were some on-field question marks. He had shoulder surgery and missed the final four games of his senior season at North Carolina. It's a different injury than the one he suffered in the pros, but for some players that's how it goes. His play -- for the small part of the 2013 offseason in which he participated -- left some members of the former coaching staff wanting to release him before that season began. There was talk of releasing Montgomery that early as well.
Today the Texans released Williams after he failed his pre-camp physical. He had hoped to be ready for organized team activities, but instead spent the whole of them rehabbing an injury that required microfracture surgery last year.
A glance at that draft offers plenty of questions once you get past the first and second rounds. First-round pick DeAndre Hopkins and second-round pick D.J. Swearinger aren't game-breakers yet, but they have talent and the potential to be very good players for the Texans.
Then, things get muddy.
We've discussed the third round. Fourth-round pick Trevardo Williams is on the physically unable to perform list. Sixth-round pick Chris Jones was released and wound up with the New England Patriots eventually, where he played more snaps than any Texans draft pick.
Their three other sixth-round picks that year were offensive tackle David Quessenberry, tight end Ryan Griffin and receiver Alan Bonner. We'll remove Quessenberry from this discussion as he fights for his life at MD Anderson, a much more important fight than a mere position battle. Bonner and Griffin have shown promise, but only Griffin has played. Bonner spent last season on injured reserve.
That means just three of nine 2013 draft picks have played any NFL games for the Texans.
And that third round wasn't good. That's a place where you can still find starters and the Texans got nothing out of their picks. The blame gets shifted between the former coaching staff and the front office depending on who's doing the blaming. To me the bottom line is this: The final say for that draft rested with Texans general manager Rick Smith. Ultimately, he should shoulder that responsibility.
Three players were placed on PUP to start training camp: inside linebacker Brian Cushing, nose tackle Louis Nix and linebacker Trevardo Williams.
Clowney not being on the list is significant, as is Cushing being on the list.
At this point in the year, PUP is mostly a procedural designation because a player can be taken off it at any point before the first week of the regular season. If he is still on PUP during Week 1, then he must remain there for at least six weeks.
There is clearly no concern, as expected, that Clowney will miss any of the regular season. In fact, this indicates the Texans aren't expecting him to miss much time, if any at all. Clowney had surgery to repair a sports hernia in June.
In Cushing's case, this means the Texans are preparing for the possibility that he could need to start the season on PUP. In order to be able to put a player on regular-season PUP, he must start there before training camp. Cushing is certain he'll be able to play all 16 games this season, but the fact that the Texans apparently think there's a chance he won't be ready for Week 1 is noteworthy. Either that, or they're playing games.
Williams spent last season on injured reserve with what was termed a knee injury. He was a fourth-round pick in 2013. Nix was a third-round pick this year and worked through a knee injury during the offseason.
Shoot, we love anyone who doesn't take himself too seriously in the often humorless world of NFL football.
"Well, hello, Mr. Clowney. Here's the deal, you ran a 4.50 40, you're an absolute physical freak. You're going to be taking on our offensive line. But if you ever think about coming on fourth downs, please don't hurt me. I mean, please do not hurt me. You are an absolute monster.
"But if you want to mess with our quarterback, I think you need to watch a little tape here before you come mess with my guy, my teammate, my compadre, No. 12 Andrew Luck."
A video of McAfee knocking Broncos returner Trindon Holliday out of bounds played while McAfee continued.
"You see, this is what I would do," he said. "I would close my eyes and run as fast as I can. If we just so happen to run into each other, hopefully you don't kill me. And hopefully, bang, that'll happen. That is complete luck. I understand you're not 5-foot-9, I understand you're probably bigger than me. Well, no, that's not probably. I've been eating a little bit but you're definitely bigger than me.
"But if you just so happen to disrespect Andrew Luck, my guy, my showermate, I will run with my eyes fully closed right at you. Just like Shawne Merriman it will be lights out."
Andre Johnson deserves special consideration, writes Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle. He calls the handling of Johnson's situation one of general manager Rick Smith's top five bungles and advocates for the Texans guaranteeing Johnson's 2015 salary to show they actually mean they want him with the team for the rest of his career. Solomon makes a good point here, and I've always felt that players can earn the right to get special consideration for their place in a franchise's history. It wouldn't set a bad precedent. Would any player dare ask for the same treatment given to the best offensive player in franchise history? After everything Johnson has given the Texans on the field, and his positive presence off it, he deserves that. I've written the Texans' perspective on this in the past -- that they aren't inclined to let go of a player in whom they've invested so much. But it's also worth considering what Johnson has invested in the Texans, the fifth most valuable franchise in the NFL.
Patrick D. Starr, whose website is now part of Scout.com, is evaluating each position heading into training camp. Here's his evaluation of the Texans' safeties at StateoftheTexans.com. His thoughts on safety Chris Clemons: Adding him only improves the position in terms of depth. With the Miami Dolphins, Clemons showed he can be a solid safety that is a sure tackler, but his ball skills are limited since he has been in the NFL. Every defense needs three capable safeties and with three safety packages defenses need in the NFL today, the Texans feel they have that with Clemons. Clemons can play either position at safety, in the box or the deep player, for the defense. He is an instant plug and play player for the defense if something happens to Lewis or Swearinger. Either way, Clemons will see time with the defense and should be a key rotational piece for the defense.
Jadeveon Clowney is heading into training camp with lofty expectations surrounding him, writes Nick Klopsis of Newsday. "You just have to go out there and play,'' Clowney said. "It's football. It's not a science test or something I hate ... I've been playing for a while. It's not that hard.''
Three days before he and the rest of the Texans' rookies have to report for training camp, that hasn't changed.
Clowney was in New York today for a sponsorship event, and did a few interviews in which he discussed his health. He told the Wall Street Journal and the Houston Chronicle he is rehabbing and leaving his participation in training camp up to the trainers. More from the Wall Street Journal's Kevin Clark:
"Clowney is hoping not to sit out the first part of his training camp. He had sports hernia surgery this offseason and said he doesn’t know if he will be full speed when he reports to camp. And even if he’s full-speed physically, it may take a while for the dominant, lightning-fast Clowney of his college days to return. He has to learn the playbook first. He said the multiple plays which require players to “flip” sides of the field have been confusing. He’s learned, quickly, he said, that the NFL is not a major athletic step up in competition -- it’s an intellectual one. (Clowney said,) 'A lot of guys, it’s not as much athletic as it is they are just a lot smarter.'"
Texans training camp actually opens on the 25th, with practices beginning on the 26th, but rookies and injured players are to report on the 21st.
Clark's story also includes some of Clowney's thoughts on whether he should have sat out last season, and on some of the comments from his former coach Steve Spurrier. You can read the rest here.
They traded T.J. Yates to the Atlanta Falcons and brought in the veteran Fitzpatrick as the starter and drafted Savage in the fourth round in May. Savage isn't ready to start yet, but they didn't draft him expecting that. Keenum is the only quarterback on this roster who was not brought in by new coach Bill O'Brien, but I think he keeps him. Having three quarterbacks prevents you from being forced to start an unprepared rookie in case of injuries. Savage's development is paramount.
RUNNING BACKS/FULLBACKS (4)
Blue, a sixth-round pick, and Brown, a free-agent pickup, will battle during camp to be Foster's backup. That's an important role, given the questions about Foster's health. Prosch, another draft pick, blocked well during the offseason. He'll stick around as the only fullback on the roster.
In my first version of the 53-man roster, I opted not to choose between Posey and Keshawn Martin. Martin was the Texans' returner last season and their primary slot receiver, though they didn't use a true slot receiver often. I think the Texans keep five here and there's absolutely a chance Martin fights his way back onto the roster, displacing Posey or Bonner. And, yes, like the Texans, I am expecting Johnson back for the season.
TIGHT ENDS (4)
The Texans kept only three tight ends for most of last season, but they'll need more for this offense.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
- Duane Brown
- Brandon Brooks
- Ben Jones
- Chris Myers
- Xavier Su'a-Filo
- Derek Newton
- Will Yeatman
- Brennan Williams
- Cody White
The only remaining battle on the offensive line is between Jones and Su'a-Filo at left guard. Drafted with the first pick of the second round, Su'a-Filo has starting level talent, but he missed most of the offseason. Now he'll have to play catch-up; Jones has a head start. Elsewhere: left tackle Brown, center Myers, right guard Brooks and right tackle Newton.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5)
This is assuming Pagan, a sixth-round pick, recovers from his injury and does enough to remain on the roster. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Pagan had shoulder surgery after college. Powe's speed and size were really impressive during OTAs, as was Crick's athleticism. And, of course, there's Watt.
- Brian Cushing
- Justin Tuggle
- Max Bullough
- Akeem Dent
- Brooks Reed
- Whitney Mercilus
- Jadeveon Clowney
- Ricky Sapp
- Jeff Tarpinian
This will be a much-talked about position because of the addition of Clowney, the first overall draft pick. The Texans get versatility from Reed and Tuggle, who can play both inside and outside, and return Cushing, the heart of this defense who hasn't finished the past two seasons. He's confident he'll stay healthy this season. Bullough could make the team as an undrafted rookie.
Jackson suddenly found himself the elder statesman this offseason, with Joseph working to the side as he recovers from offseason surgery. Joseph expects to be back by training camp. Hal is tentatively on this list, but the seventh-round pick could be usurped during training camp. Bouye was a promising undrafted rookie last season and has drawn compliments from O'Brien. Slot corner is another question mark for the Texans.
Lewis started next to Swearinger during the offseason and should be competing against Clemons during training camp to be the team's starting free safety.
Bullock's kicking and confidence improved at the end of last season. He's competing with undrafted rookie Chris Boswell to be the Texans' kicker, but that competition won't really ramp up until training camp and the preseason games.
DeAndre Hopkins' rookie season coincided with a great deal of turmoil for the Houston Texans' quarterbacks. During it, Michael Schottey of BleacherReport.com didn't feel Hopkins was the player he'd seen in college. He thinks the Texans can use Hopkins better than they did last season -- and Hopkins is more than just a decoy for Andre Johnson. Schottey says Hopkins, not Clowney, is the young Texans' player set to become a household name.
Abdul Foster has been training his brother Arian for five years, but his new gym IX Innovations attracts more NFL clientele including Andre Johnson, writes Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle. "I've always wanted a place here in town where I can work out, and this is a perfect fit," Johnson said. "It's a lot of fun getting to work out with guys from around the league and former teammates. It's a good time but very serious work."
The National Football Post published this piece previewing the Houston Texans' 2014 season. About the quarterback situation, the story says this: "Savage has some tools to work with, but he is a developmental prospect at best and it might be three years before he is ready to start. In the meantime, going into camp, the starter looks like it may be Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a very smart journeyman quarterback who can win some games, but he will never lead a team to the playoffs."
The latest Forbes list of the most valuable franchises in the world bolsters that claim. The Texans rank 12th among professional sports franchises worldwide at $1.45 billion. They rank fifth among NFL teams behind Dallas, New England, Washington and the New York Giants.
The top three most valuable franchises are all soccer teams: Real Madrid ($3.44 billion), Barcelona ($3.2 billion) and Manchester United ($2.81 billion). Real Madrid and Barcelona are both owned by club members, while the Glazer family, which also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, owns Manchester United.
American sports first arrive at No. 4 with the New York Yankees, a franchise worth $2.5 billion. The Dallas Cowboys (No. 5) are worth $2.3 billion, the Los Angeles Dodgers are worth $2 billion, soccer team Bayern Munich is worth $1.85 billion and NFL teams round out the bottom of the top 10.
No. 8 is New England ($1.8 billion), No. 9 is Washington ($1.7 billion) and No. 10 is the New York Giants ($1.55 billion).
What's interesting about the most valuable NFL teams is the correlation of winning to value. Or lackthereof as it were.
The Cowboys haven't even been to the playoffs since 2009 and have gone 2-7 in the postseason since their 1995 Super Bowl win. The New England Patriots are one of the most successful NFL franchises in the modern era, and the New York Giants have two Super Bowl championships since 2007. But then you have Washington, a team with a storied history that hasn't been out of the divisional round in the past 22 seasons and won just three games last season.
NFL Nation's Tania Ganguli examines the three biggest issues facing the Houston Texans heading into training camp.
Johnson's absence: Texans receiver Andre Johnson already has lost his $1 million roster bonus because of his absences this offseason, and he reportedly has asked for a trade. It could get worse. The Texans can fine him up to $30,000 for each day of training camp he misses. Johnson has made a lot of money during his time with the Texans; that investment is part of why they aren't interested in letting him go right now, either by trading or releasing him. They also would take a pretty significant hit to their salary cap. Moving Johnson now would stick the Texans with $12 million in dead money. But Johnson's perspective is sympathetic. He has played on a lot of bad teams and talked frequently before last season about the difficulty of doing so. It shocked him that the Texans went 2-14 during the 2013 season, and his outlook on the 2014 season isn't rosy. Imagine this scenario from Johnson's point of view: He spends 2014 toiling through a rebuilding year at age 33, then gets released or traded next year as his salary rises and cap hit falls. He'd much prefer spending 2014 with a contender.
Return of the wounded: Three important players had surgery during or after the 2013 season, and their progress will be something to follow. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph had foot surgery, inside linebacker Brian Cushing had knee surgery and running back Arian Foster had back surgery. It was the second season in a row that Joseph and Cushing had surgeries. Last offseason Joseph had two sports hernia surgeries, and last season Cushing had surgery on his other knee to replace a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Foster was back for organized team activities and the Texans' minicamps. Cushing and Joseph weren't fully practicing, so their health will be important to watch. And, of course, one very important rookie also had surgery in June. Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in May, had surgery to repair a sports hernia he might or might not have been dealing with during his final season at South Carolina. Clowney's progress will be key for the Texans, who weren't expecting him to need surgery upon his arrival. They need him to start at outside linebacker and help bolster their pass rush. The good news for Houston is the recovery time for sports hernia surgery -- about six weeks -- lines up perfectly with the start of training camp.
Fitzpatrick's learning and teaching: Texans coach Bill O'Brien announced Ryan Fitzpatrick as the team's starting quarterback on the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp. He said Fitzpatrick earned the position with his ability to pick up the Texans' offense and his steady improvement in it. Fitzpatrick's past includes spots of brilliant mobility, but there also are overextensions and too many turnovers. His responsibility this season will be twofold. First, he's to guide the Texans offense, protect the football and manage the game. Second, he's to help teach rookie Tom Savage the craft of an NFL quarterback. Savage spent his college career with three different programs, lacking the stability needed to really learn and get better. The good news for the Texans is that makes Savage a fairly blank canvas. He shouldn't have habits that make it difficult to learn a new system or be so set in his ways that the learning process gets stuck.
We've got a hodgepodge of stories today from some of the usuals. Let's get to it.
John Harris goes into the Xs and Os of the 3-4 defense and the different receiver positions for the Texans' official website. On the differences between types of 3-4 schemes, Harris said: "It's kind of like having a Ford Mustang, and having a Ford Escape. They're all Fords, but they're going to look completely different." It's a good series they'll continue through the week.
Fan blogger extraordinaire Steph Stradley teamed up with the Washington Post for an admittedly way too early Q&A about the Texans' season-opening game against Washington. I enjoyed this exchange:
Keith: There’s an attitude among some Redskins fans that last year’s 3-13 team was not a bad one so much as a talented group that let a promising season go uncharacteristically awry. A new coach and an active offseason wipe the slate clean. Consequently, when this year’s schedule came out, 87% of 3,525 users who voted in a poll we ran saw the Texans game as a Week 1 win, and 94% saw the Jaguars as a win in Week 2. That seems presumptous for a team that lost 13 games, but with a new coach and the Redskins and Raiders as their first two opponents, fans of last year’s 2-14 Texans could take a similar view. Have you detected any sense that the Redskins are an ideal team to open up against, or a team Houston fans feel the Texans should beat?
Steph: Your first two sentences could be exactly the same for the Texans if you changed the names, and switched the record to 2-14. Both Houston and Washington are undergoing the de-Shanahaning of their offenses. The process of doing that makes both teams hard to judge going into the season.
CSNHouston.com's Dave Zangaro continues a look at training camp battles with slot corners. Brice McCain served as the Texans' slot corner last season, but has since been released.
He was asked if he still wanted to be in Houston and replied, "I'm under contract." It was heartbreaking to fans that things had gotten so bad that this man, perhaps the best player in franchise history, was this fed up with what was happening with his team.
Today I checked the pulse of Twitter to get an idea of what fans think of Johnson now, given all that's happened with that situation.
Arian Foster said Andre Johnson "is Houston." I asked if fans agreed. Is he Houston? Is he still the face of the franchise? A sampling of replies.
@taniaganguli He is for 2 more years. But JJ will be then. Dre will go down as the all time favorite. Quiet guy. No silly BS. Wants to win.— JBH1970 (@jbh_1970) July 16, 2014
@taniaganguli Andre is Houston football. JJ may be great now but Andre always has been for us.— Tatianna (@shockofthequeen) July 16, 2014
@taniaganguli No, JJ is the face of the team. I think Cushing is even ahead of Andre right now.— TexansFan13 (@TexansFan0013) July 16, 2014
@taniaganguli Just temporarily. When JJ signs that contract next year, he'll be the face of the #Texans— Jared Moss (@jmoss311) July 16, 2014
@ChrisBurke_SI @taniaganguli Andre Johnson is the face of "I want to leave Houston"— Reboot (@Just_Reboot) July 16, 2014
@taniaganguli JJ all the way! I don't see too many AJ commercials on Houston tv— Bryan Calvert (@tenpoundbrain) July 16, 2014
@taniaganguli Depends on who you ask. Fans that have been around the whole time will say he is. Fans who came along 2011 will say it's Watt.— Chans Foote (@ChansFoote) July 16, 2014
He doesn't wanna be RT @taniaganguli: What do you guys think? Is Andre Johnson "Houston"? Is he the face of the #Texans right now?— George Spring(her) (@thegeorgeyoung) July 16, 2014
@taniaganguli I don't think someone can be the face of the team if they don't show up.— Matthew DesOrmeaux (@cynicusprime) July 16, 2014
@taniaganguli Watt is getting close but Dre is still the Texans.— Sergio England (@ElSurge) July 16, 2014
@taniaganguli was. Not anymore. Comes off as a spoiled brat now. Burned bridges with fans— DXTex (@DXTex) July 16, 2014
@taniaganguli Andre is to Houston as Leeroy Selmon was to Tampa Bay. The first player of the franchise to be inducted into HOF.— Venkat Ramamurthy (@venramamurthy) July 16, 2014
"He is Houston," Texans running back Arian Foster said during an interview with Local 2 news in Houston on Tuesday. "I remember when I had my little run where I had like two back-to-back great seasons. I felt like this city loves me; they love me here. Everywhere I go, this is still Dre's city."
And that distinction stands even when including players from the Houston Rockets, Foster said.
"I don't care if James Harden is walking around, Dwight Howard, whatever. This is Andre Johnson's city. He is Houston," the running back said. "That's what it means more than anything. He's been a staple here for so long."
Johnson has not attended any of the Texans' offseason programs and has not indicated he plans to attend training camp.
He has reportedly asked for a trade, but sources said the Texans are not interested in dealing him. Johnson is due $10.5 million this season in base salary but will not receive a $1 million roster bonus that was contingent on his attending offseason workouts. Trading or releasing Johnson would cost the Texans about $12 million against their salary cap.
They sent former Texan Chester Pitts to do a story on Arian Foster's brother's gym. Speaking with his former Houston Texans teammate, Foster was willing to add some thoughts about Andre Johnson:
"From a leadership standpoint, Dre doesn't talk," he said. "Just having him there, he's one of the GOATs. He's one of the best receivers to ever lace up his cleats."Johnson
"He is Houston," Foster said. "I remember when I had my little run where I had like two back-to-back great seasons. I felt like this city loves me, they love me here. Everywhere I go, this is still Dre's city. I don't care if James Harden is walking around, Dwight Howard, whatever. This is Andre Johnson's city. He is Houston. That's what it means more than anything. He's been a staple here for so long."
The Texans went 2-14 in 2013, and have just three winning seasons in their 13-year history. The franchise has made the playoffs twice. With the lack of prolonged success, Foster says he gets why Johnson wants to play in a different uniform.
"I understand where he's coming from," he said. "I really do. This is a business and people forget that it's a business. He's at the point of his career where he doesn't want money now. He just wants to go win.
"Ultimately that's one of my friends outside the field. So I want him to do what's best for him. If he doesn't feel like playing anymore, he wants to hang it up then I'll support him. If he wants to come back and help us win, I'm all for that as well."