Texans receiver Andre Johnson has kept far away from Houston’s facilities this offseason, skipping voluntary workouts and mandatory minicamp, and as recently as Wednesday, he told NFL Media’s Marcus Smith that “hopefully” he’d show up for training camp.
Unlike most players who aren’t happy with their teams at this time of year, Johnson isn’t looking for more money. He’s frustrated that he’s in the twilight of his career and stuck on a team that’s rebuilding — again — and has reportedly asked for a trade.
Moving Johnson would not be easy, however, and it doesn’t seem like something Houston wants to do. When the Texans open training camp for veterans in less than two weeks, Johnson may well be there, but it remains to be seen what the relationship between the franchise and the best player in its 12-year history will be like.
The third overall pick in 2003, Johnson and the Texans have had just three winning seasons: 2009, 2011, and 2012, with Houston making the postseason in 2011 and ’12.
As the team’s record has gone up and down, Johnson has been a model of consistency, even as he played with average starting quarterbacks in David Carr and Matt Schaub.
Johnson is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro; he has five seasons with 100 or more receptions and seven 1,000-yard seasons; and with 927 career receptions, this season he could become the 10th receiver in NFL history with 1,000.
He could reach that milestone, but as of now, the utterly underwhelming Ryan Fitzpatrick is slated to be the Texans’ starter. A league source who knows Fitzpatrick well says he’s “a true second/third quarterback” who is there to hold the spot as Houston develops Case Keenum, rookie Tom Savage, or perhaps another player.
That’s part of Johnson’s frustration, and he’s long felt like a one-man offense, which is understandable: Johnson has 50 100-yard games in his career, and teammates have managed just 22 total during his time in the league.
Knowing that one of the best receivers in the NFL wants out has, of course, led to speculation on which teams would be interested in acquiring Johnson, and some harmless dreaming by fans of receiver-needy teams. Whether it comes to fruition is another story.
Johnson signed a seven-year, $67.8 million contract in 2010 that guaranteed him $20.5 million. His base salary for this year is $10 million, a hefty amount for another team to take on, particularly the Patriots, who have just $6.3 million currently available under the salary cap, according to patscap.com.
Johnson is owed even more over the final two years of the deal, with base salaries of $10.5 million in 2015 and $11 million in 2016.
It would take not only financial maneuvering, but there’s also the matter of what Houston would want in return. One AFC scout said Johnson is no longer elite, citing his age (33) and a bit of a slowdown when it comes to his breakaway speed, though he is still very good, and guessed it would take a second- or third-round pick to get him.
Johnson would have to agree to a pay cut to play for a team such as New England, and the feeling is that he would be open to doing that. However, the Texans aren’t balking at the idea of paying the $10 million he’s owed this year, and owner Bob McNair wants Johnson to retire as a Texan.
Long story short, Johnson might be frustrated, but the Texans know he’s staying in shape, new coach Bill O’Brien knows he needs the receiver if his offense is going to be respectable, and general manager Rick Smith has been content to let Johnson cool off this offseason, hopeful that he’ll be ready to return to the team once camp comes around.
It might be fun to play the “what if” game, and imagine what Johnson would look like catching passes from Tom Brady or Cam Newton, but in the end, he will likely remain a frustrated Texan.
Printed on plain white paper and bearing the folds from its travels, the picture is stuck to the back of his stall with white medical tape, the kind used to wrap ankles and fingers. The pastel-printed couch has a pillow on one end and a balled-up blue comforter on the other.
The couch is in a friend’s place in Worcester, and it is the spot that served as his bed for several months. Loiseau never wants to return to it again.
Loiseau is one of the dozens of players on the NFL’s fringes, doing anything and everything possible to get a chance to live their dream of playing football at the highest level.
A Division 2 All-America linebacker and special teams ace at Merrimack College who became one of the select small-school players to garner an invite to the NFL Combine, Loiseau wasn’t drafted in 2012 but signed with Houston as a rookie free agent.
The Texans cut him out of training camp, but he caught on with the Colts in November, when he was signed to their practice squad. Indianapolis released, re-signed, and then released Loiseau again last September, after he tore his meniscus.
Every day since, Loiseau says, he’s been training. When he wasn’t in the weight room, he was sneaking onto fields. Sometimes there were lights for him to work under, sometimes there weren’t.
As he ran stairs or sprints, as he skipped nights out with friends, Loiseau found himself mentally competing against players he couldn’t see, current NFLers who were maybe getting complacent, doing just enough to get by as he did more. He was coming for them, wanting to take the job just one had taken for granted.
The opportunity to play for the KISS, a first-year team that has predictably struggled, at 3-12 with three games to go, came last month. Loiseau knew little about the Arena Football League and the differences between positions and schemes, but he’s jumped right in and will start at jack linebacker this week as well as play special teams.
Both roles, he said, give him the chance to do what he does best: run sideline to sideline, relentlessly pursuing ball carriers.
The pay, around $850 per game, isn’t much, especially compared with NFL paychecks, even those earned by practice squad players, and especially not for someone with $70,000 in student loans to pay back because he wasn’t on a full scholarship.
Ever the optimist, Loiseau talks about the KISS being able to qualify for the playoffs if they win their final three games, and that would take him into August, a prime time to get called into camp with an NFL team.
When he was back home, the Shrewsbury native heard from friends and acquaintances asking him what’s next and what he’ll do without football, but Loiseau turned a deaf ear. He has a small circle of folks who believe in him — from his parents to his new agent, and his longtime mentors, Steve Cardillo and Peter Morel, who own American Nutrition Center in Everett but have been with Loiseau every step of the way, encouraging him to maintain his positive attitude and helping him work on the next phase of his life when his playing days are done.
Not that Loiseau expects that to be any time soon. His favorite Twitter hashtag is #dreamchasin, as he posts motivational quotes to those like him who might be pursuing something still out of reach.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me what I can and can’t do. I’ve had this one dream and I’m going to chase it until I physically can’t, until a doctor says I can’t play anymore,” Loiseau said.
ALL DUE RESPECT
Brady’s place among game’s best is restored
Herewith, the last time this writer will bring up the Tom Brady/where does he rank storyline. The last time for July at least. We think.
Over the last several weeks, NFL Network has revealed its top 10 players of the 2013 season, as voted on by players. Which players, we’re not sure, but they say the ranking is derived based on a poll of selected players.
At any rate, the top 10 were revealed last week, and Brady came in at No. 3, behind Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s record-setting season and the otherworldly talents of Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson.
Several players were featured talking about why Brady is so good.
Falcons receiver Roddy White said, “He just goes out there with anybody. I think he could take the guy from across the street that was walking, jogging, throw him out there in some football pads, tell him to run an in-cut, and he’ll hit him with the ball.”
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said, “He wants to win more than he wants to glorify himself, and if that means running the ball 50 times because you’re showing them a defense that’s vulnerable to the run, he’ll do it. If you show him a heavy box, where he’ll take advantage of it through the air, that’s what he’ll do. That unselfishness from that position — ‘What’s best for our offense?’, not just, ‘What’s best for me?’ — is what makes him so special.”
Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, who spent three years as Brady’s backup, said of his friend, “To me, he does everything the right way. He works hard, he’s so intense — he’s just the ultimate leader, I think.”
NFL Network began producing the top 100 series after the 2010 season, and Brady is the only player to be ranked in the top 10 each year. He was voted the top player for 2010, and was fourth in 2011 and 2012.
So while one stat-o-phile at Pro Football Focus created a stir by declaring in an ESPN.com article that Brady was no longer a top-five quarterback, in recent weeks we’ve had a different ESPN.com story, this one polling 26 personnel executives and coaches from around the league, that declared him one of five top-tier quarterbacks in the league, and now a vote of his peers, who acknowledge that Brady is still among the very best in the NFL.
And things will stay that way, as they should, until Brady has his first subpar game of the season. That’s when the naysayers will come back out in full force. Enjoy the quiet while you can.
The NFL announced last week that retired offensive lineman Matt Birk has been named director of football development. A six-time Pro Bowl selection during his 14-year career with the Vikings and Ravens, Birk’s new role has many facets. According to a release, he’ll assist in developing the game of football from players to coaches to front office personnel, assist in the administration of game-day operations, guide the continued evolution of the scouting combine, regional combines, and the annual collegiate all-star games, and oversee the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship program, among other responsibilities. A Minnesota native, Birk was an All-Ivy League performer at Harvard . . . Mull this number for a minute: $6 billion. That’s how much revenue the NFL’s 32 teams split for the 2013 season, the most the league has ever made. Because they are publicly owned, the Packers have to produce an annual revenue report, and the franchise pulled in $187.7 million in national revenue last year, 1/32 of the league pie. And with new television contracts on the horizon, that number will jump even more. It’s good to be king . . . Former Patriots Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Milloy were part of the “Legends of Candlestick” flag football game on Saturday that served as the last football hurrah for the storied stadium, hosted by Joe Montana. The 49ers will begin playing in Levi’s Stadium this fall . . . A tip of the cap to Patrick Chung. The once-again Patriots safety kicked off his second Summer Music Academy for Real Teens (SMART) on Thursday. The intensive three-week camp, free for participants, gives Boston-area teens the chance to work with local professional musicians to build their skills in songwriting, crafting beats, and other areas of music.
Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.