The moment that Andre Johnson started voicing his uncertainty about his future in Houston in May, I reached out to a friend (who regularly communicates with teams, players, and agents) in the sports media. His first response was this: “In the NFL, it’s always about the money.”
Since then, it’s been my opinion that this entire situation revolves around money. Let’s take a look at Johnson’s contract: http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/houston-texans/andre-johnson/
This season, he’s owed $10M base salary, accounting for a $14.6M salary cap hit (Ed note: the hit may be $15.6 due to the workout bonus situation), with $11.9M in dead money. With the relatively small discrepancy between the cap hit and dead money, the Texans have every incentive to keep Andre around for the 2014 season.
Why do I feel this is about the money? Take a look at the 2015 season. Johnson has a $16.1M cap hit, but only $7.3M in dead money. That type of cap hit would be a tough one to swallow for a (then) 34-year-old wide receiver. Meanwhile, $7.3M in dead money isn’t a gigantic amount to swallow for a rebuilding team.
For Johnson, the issue is likely about financial security, not simply getting more money. Andre knows he’s making $10M this season, but there isn’t any guarantee beyond that. Despite his status with the franchise, he could look at the figures above and fear being released after 2014.
Ian Rapoport tried to clear up the issues surrounding Johnson and the Texans with this piece on NFL.com Thursday. The dilemma appears to center around the $1M that the receiver forfeited for not showing up to offseason workouts. Andre wants the opportunity to earn it back, while the Texans are holding firm at rejecting his request.
What’s more realistic: this entire standoff revolving around a million dollar roster bonus, or Andre (and his camp) attempting to acquire more financial security, specifically in terms of his 2015 money?
During his appearance on MaD Radio, Rapoport indicated the Texans could appease Andre by guaranteeing his 2015 base salary. This, to me, is the crux of the issue. There is a world of difference between giving Johnson a $1M workout bonus, and giving him a $20.5M commitment over the next two years.
If Andre gets a $1M bonus that he didn’t technically “earn,” what players in the locker room are going to be up in arms? I’d guess very, very few. If Andre gets a contract re-structure guaranteeing him both 2014 and 2015, Rick Smith would receive a phone call the very next day from Tom Condon, JJ Watt’s agent. I’m sure a call from Kareem Jackson’s agent wouldn’t be far away.
In 2010, the Texans took the extremely rare step of re-structuring Johnson’s contract, despite having multiple years left. The explanation was simple: he’s the greatest player in the franchise history, and he is a unique case. It’s a very fair argument for a possible Hall of Famer, in his prime, working on an under-market contract.
Right now, Smith would have a far more difficult time justifying a contract extension/money guarantee. If he tried to argue, “Well, he’s Andre Johnson,” Dogra’s response would probably be something along the lines of, “That’s great. I represent JJ Watt. You know, the 2-time first team All-Pro and 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.”
In addition, guaranteeing future base salaries is a very dangerous step in the NFL. Just ask Mike Tannenbaum, who did that with Mark Sanchez (guaranteeing salaries in 2012 and 2013, preventing the Jets from releasing the former USC QB). Tannenbaum was fired after the 2012 season.
It’s one thing to trade Matt Schaub to the Raiders, absorbing dead money in the process. Bob McNair’s last paycheck to Schaub came in the final week of the 2013 season. The dead money this year is simply the acceleration of Schaub’s guaranteed money and bonuses. If Andre gets his $10.5M guaranteed in 2015, there’s no way the Texans could really escape that deal. Even if he got hurt or became suddenly ineffective, no teams want to actively pay players not to play in games.
The precedent here is a big one. With other players on the team waiting on new deals, the Texans seem to be holding firm. They have a lot of leverage; Johnson is due $10M this season, but only if he shows up to play. In contrast to Rapoport’s feelings on MaD Radio today, I would be shocked if Andre was willing to sit out/retire.
Mike Meltser can be heard on MaD Radio from 10am-2pm
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