HOUSTON TEXANS UPDATE 

lCHANGING OF THE GUARD; ANDRE JOHNSON, TEXANS TO PART WAYS

Fantasy football owners are about to see a changing of the guard in Houston. It appears Andre Johnson and the Texans have reached the end of the road. ... As Houston Chronicle staffer John McClain first reported, Johnson’s exit from the Texans after 12 seasons that established him as a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame could lead him to his first Super Bowl.

The Texans gave Johnson’s agent, Kennard McGuire, permission to seek a trade for one of the greatest receivers in history. If a trade can’t be worked out, Johnson will be placed on waivers, making him an unrestricted free agent.

“It’s business,” Johnson told McClain. “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, who turns 34 in July, had 85 catches for 936 yards (11-yard average) and three touchdowns last season when the Texans finished 9-7 in head coach Bill O’Brien’s first season. Johnson wants to play at least two more seasons. But during a meeting with O’Brien last week, Johnson was told his role would be reduced next season.

“People try to picture it the way they want to picture it, saying that I asked for a trade (but), there’s a reason I asked for a trade,” he said. “I think if anybody else was in my situation they would have done the same thing I did.

“I don’t know how you tell a guy who catches 85 balls that he’ll only probably catch 40. I feel like the role they were trying to put me in I’d be held back from maximizing my talents. I feel like that was the best thing for both sides.

“Why sit there and be miserable when I can go somewhere else and be able to show my talents.”

According to McClain, the two sides didn’t get around to discussing a possible reduction in pay. Johnson has two years left on his contract, including a base salary of $10.5 million this season and a salary cap hit of $16.1 million. He also receives a $1 million workout bonus.

The Texans save $8.82 million in salary cap space by trading or cutting Johnson. They’ll have about $21.9 million in cap space.

If money isn’t an issue, McClain suggests that Johnson might be able to sign with a perennial Super Bowl contender like New England, Seattle, Baltimore or Denver, where Gary Kubiak is in his first season as the Broncos’ coach. Johnson played his greatest seasons in his eight years with Kubiak.

But as the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec noted this morning, from Derrick Mason to Anquan Boldin to Steve Smith, the Ravens have a history of acquiring big-name wide receivers late in their careers and benefiting from them having productive seasons. Zrebiec added the really need a wide receiver, especially if Torrey Smith leaves in free agency, which now seems likely unless he’s willing to accept a hometown discount.

Johnson, by the way, certainly won’t be the only accomplished wide receiver made available over the next couple weeks.

There is talk that Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace, Marques Colston and Percy Harvin could be either traded or released as teams look to create some cap room and get younger.

Whatever the case, the Texans' decision to downgrade his role comes on the heels of a season in which Johnson showed signs of slowing down and it became clear DeAndre Hopkins had emerged as the team's most dangerous receiving threat.

The question for fantasy owners hoping Hopkins can fulfill his potential, however, remains unchanged: The Texans need some talent and continuity at quarterback.

Remember, the Texans went 9-7 in O'Brien's first year, nearly making the playoffs despite utilizing four quarterbacks. General manager Rick Smith made it clear the Texans want to re-sign Ryan Mallett, an unrestricted free agent who was 1-1 as a starter but, before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury, showed the potential to run O'Brien's complex offense at a high level.

"I was impressed," Smith said. "He worked hard and obviously played pretty good that (Cleveland) game. ... Somewhere along the line there, (he) suffered that injury. So it was disappointing for him, but we're hopeful that we'll get him back as well and he'll have another opportunity to continue to help us."

According to the Sports Xchange, if O'Brien had his way, Mallett already would be under contract -- the league's new year officially begins March 10 -- and several Texans already would be engaged in an open competition for the right to guide the team's offense.

"(I) really have a good connection with Ryan," O'Brien said. "George Godsey, our quarterback coach, has a real good connection, too. He enjoys playing in our system. We enjoy coaching him. Unfortunately, he only played two games due to injury. ... He's doing better. He's rehabbing. And we'd like to have him back in Houston."

I'll be watching for more on the quarterback -- and now the wide receiver -- situation in coming days.

One aspect of the team we have a pretty good understanding of is running back.

In the wake of comments about how he plans to "manage" Arian Foster's workload this season, O'Brien was asked how that might happen. "Arian is a very talented guy in a lot of phases," O'Brien said. "He can run the ball, he can catch the ball, he's a good pass protector, he's a smart football player, but you've got to manage him. How do you manage that?

"You manage him in practice. You manage him in the games."

Foster, who turns 29 in August, was as good as ever last season, rushing for 1,246 yards and eight touchdowns on a healthy 4.8 yards per carry average. He added 38 receptions for 327 yards and five touchdowns. All told, Foster had 298 touches over 13 games.

But he did miss three games and O'Brien is quick to acknowledge that.

"I think any time a player reaches that age of 30 or close to that age of 30, and you know that the guy can still play, you know that he is a very talented player," the coach explained. "That's something we'll always take into account. We communicate with the player. We communicate with Arian. How are you feeling this week? What's ailing you? Things like that. You take a lot of hits at running back in this league. I think we just continue to communicate with Arian and manage it. He's got a lot of good football yet."

Fantasy owners should focus on that final sentence and look to grab some insurance on draft day -- most likely in the form of promising youngster Alfred Blue.


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