NFL Nation: Houston Texans
When the Texans released Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins posted a fantastic photo of the two of them on Instagram that perfectly represented their relationship. Hopkins spent his first two NFL seasons learning from Johnson.
That tutelage really showed last season when Hopkins caught 76 passes for 1,210 yards, his first 1,000-yard season. Among players drafted in the past two seasons, Hopkins' production was better than everyone except the Giants' Odell Beckham.
"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."
Hopkins' development comes into focus more this offseason as he's now the focal point of the Texans' receiving corps.
"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."
PHOENIX -- Continuing to empty the notebook from my conversation this week with Houston Texans owner Bob McNair ...
When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell opened this year's league meetings, he focused on character and integrity being important to the league. It's an especially relevant topic given the turmoil the league went through last season with domestic violence-related issues.
One of the most high-profile such cases was that of Greg Hardy, a supremely talented pass-rusher who was accused of assaulting and threatening his girlfriend. The Cowboys signed Hardy this offseason, despite the specter of a suspension pending the league's investigation, which Goodell said is still ongoing.
I asked McNair on Monday if the Texans, who could use another elite pass-rusher, considered Hardy.
"No, no," he said quickly. I asked for elaboration. "My gosh, he what? Threw the girl in the shower and picked her up and threw her on the sofa where he had weapons? That’s a pretty violent act. He might want to pick me up and throw me around like that if he doesn’t like what I do. No, he wouldn’t fit in with us."
What McNair referenced were the assault accusations against Hardy, for which he was initially found guilty by a judge. That conviction was set aside when he appealed, as per North Carolina law. The new trial, though, never happened. The charges were dropped when the district attorney couldn't find the accuser. The district attorney's office said they had evidence she had accepted a financial settlement.
McNair often talks about wanting players of good character on his team. They haven't had a single arrest in the three years I've covered them, a rare feat that speaks to that insistence. But just an arrest isn't enough for McNair to give up on a player. Similarly, he stayed away from making any blanket statements about how he would handle domestic violence.
"If it was something that was pretty severe, I don’t think we would want to take a chance on him," McNair said. "If it was more of a 'he said, she said' kind of thing, who knows what the truth is there? It’s hard to judge that."
It's a complex issue and McNair is right to treat it as such, gathering facts rather than making sweeping declarations. And there is a level at which McNair would want to get involved personally.
"If there was a disagreement among our people and some of them said look, this kid, he made a mistake but he has learned, he’s been clean, hasn’t had any problems for the last two years, he’s a great player and he’s somebody we’d like to take a chance with, then I’ll say, 'OK, I’d like to meet him, let's bring him in and talk to him and see for ourselves,'" McNair said. "Or we would investigate more closely. We don’t expect people to be perfect but we don’t want people that are going to be abusing other people and are undisciplined.
"Football is a disciplined sport and if that’s the way they conduct their lives off the field, it’s going to carry over to the field and they won’t be disciplined there and they’ll be making mistakes there that will cost us."
PHOENIX -- Houston Texans owner Bob McNair wasn't surprised Andre Johnson bristled at the idea of a reduced role next season. It's just human nature, McNair told me this week at the league's owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore.
"Every athlete I think would like to play forever," McNair said when I asked if he was surprised to hear Johnson felt even before last season that he would be gone from the Texans after 2014. "They never want to acknowledge that they’ve lost a step or they can’t quite do what they did before. Just look at history. Look at all the players. It just happens time and time again. We don’t like to acknowledge that we’re getting older. None of us do. That’s just human nature, and I don’t think that’s going to change. ... They’re used to being a star and they’d like to continue being a star. I don’t blame 'em, I understand that."
Until now, there hasn't really been a public acknowledgment by the organization of the belief that Johnson had lost a step. When asked about Johnson several times since, Texans coach Bill O'Brien has repeated the refrain of how much respect he has for Johnson.
Johnson was granted permission to seek a trade earlier this month after being told the Texans planned to reduce his role significantly this season. They simply no longer believed he was a starter. When no trade options materialized, Johnson requested a release and was granted it. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent.
Though I didn't quite phrase the question this way, McNair disagreed with any characterization that the Texans did anything other than honor Johnson's wishes this offseason.
"No, he had the opportunity to stay, but his role was changing," McNair said. "As a player gets older, that’s what happens. He wasn’t interested in the role that he thought was available and he wanted to pursue a role with another team so we honored his request."
Though the end was ugly for the Texans and Johnson, he's still the most iconic offensive player the franchise has ever had.
"I think when he’s ready to retire, we would love to honor him and give him an adequate ceremony recognizing what he’s done," McNair said. "And we’ll look forward to that."
The Houston Texans have 10 selections in the 2015 NFL draft, which will be held April 30 to May 2 in Chicago. The Texans received three compensatory picks -- one in the fifth round and two in the sixth.
Here's a breakdown of the Texans' selections:
First round: 16th overall selection
Second round: 51st overall selection
Third round: 82nd overall selection
Fourth round: 116th overall selection
Fifth round: 152nd overall selection
Fifth round: 174th overall selection
Sixth round: 194th overall selection
Sixth round: 211th overall selection
Sixth round: 216th overall selection
Seventh round: 235th overall selection
PHOENIX -- The Houston Texans were in the minority last season, as they had a head coach who maintained play-calling responsibilities and as a team without a person who held the title of "offensive coordinator."
That will change soon.
I'm told the Texans plan to promote quarterbacks coach George Godsey, who is already taking on a lot of offensive coordinator responsibilites. When it happens, Godsey will take a path that Texans coach Bill O'Brien did in New England and Josh McDaniels did in New England prior to O'Brien.
When asked this morning about his decision to call plays, O'Brien brought up Godsey, unprompted.
"He does a lot of things offensively to help me," O'Brien said. "I really give him a lot of responsibility offensively. At some point in time, probably sooner rather than later, he'll be an offensive coordinator. He does a lot of that for us."
Godsey began his career in the NFL as an offensive assistant for New England in 2011, the only year O'Brien was officially the Patriots' offensive coordinator. His relationship with O'Brien goes back to Georgia Tech, when Godsey was a quarterback and O'Brien was an assistant coach. He moved to tight ends coach when O'Brien left for Penn State, then left to join O'Brien's staff in Houston last year.
Godsey took some of the public responsibilities of an offensive coordinator, including conducting the Wednesday press conferences mandated for coordinators throughout the season. His title was quarterbacks coach, though. One benefit of having a person take a gradual route is it offers a public murkiness on the inner workings of the team's offense. The collaborative effort of putting together the game plan can allow a coach can gain experience without the scrutiny that comes with being a first-year offensive coordinator. Godsey is ready for the challenge, though.
It worked for O'Brien, who was calling plays in New England for three seasons but only held the official title of offensive coordinator for one.
"It's really important to have a guy like George Godsey on your staff for me because he knows exactly what our system is, the definition of our system, how we want to call plays," O'Brien said. "How we design a game plan. I don't have to teach him that. He was with us in New England, he's come up to the ranks and he's a really good football coach."
Dent came to the Texans in June from Atlanta in the T.J. Yates trade. He suffered a high-ankle sprain that limited him last season, when he had 38 tackles and a sack. Dent eventually became a starter next to Brian Cushing.
The deal is reportedly worth $4.5 million, with $2 million guaranteed.
The Texans' defensive starting group currently includes ends J.J. Watt and Jared Crick, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, inside linebackers Cushing and Dent, outside linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, corners Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson and safeties Rahim Moore and D.J. Swearinger.
What's astounding about that group is it includes seven former first-round picks -- five of them in the front seven.
The Texans are still looking for an interior pass rusher, one who could pressure the quarterback on third downs, and some safety depth.
PHOENIX -- When it comes to defensive tackle Louis Nix, Bill O'Brien's words aren't plentiful, but they're pointed.
During today's coaches' breakfast at the NFL league meetings, the Houston Texans coach addressed a variety of topics for his hour-long session.
Asked for an update on outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, guard Xavier Su'a-Filo and Nix, three 2014 draft picks who didn't play much last season for various reasons. He mentioned being pleased with Clowney's progress and work ethic. He called Su'a-Filo a hard worker who's in the office rehabbing every day O'Brien is. On Nix he said this:
"I have not seen Louis Nix," O'Brien said. "I don't know. He’s working out somewhere in Florida I guess. Haven’t seen him. But that’s their prerogative, so don’t read anything into that. When they show back up here for the offseason program, especially the younger players, the younger players need to be ready to roll. So hopefully he’s ready to go."
I asked what he needs to see change from last season in Nix.
"I would say the ability to make it through a practice," O'Brien said. "That would be the biggest thing I need to see."
This isn't the first time O'Brien has revealed some of his frustration with Nix's development. During the season he cited Nix's need to learn how to be a professional. To that end, Nix will have a great resource in the recently signed Vince Wilfork. O'Brien hopes he uses it.
"If you're a young player in that defensive line room and you've got J.J. Watt and Vince Wilfork in that room, you'd be crazy not to kind of follow those guys around," O'Brien said. "Now you don't have to try and be like them, but I think you'd be nuts if you didn't use those guys as examples. You've got the best defensive player in the league, and then you've got this guy who's going to go down as one of the best interior linemen to ever play the game, and you're a first or second-year player in that room. You're not going to follow that example?
"It's going to be a great opportunity for Louis Nix."
PHOENIX -- For nearly the entire time Bob McNair has owned the Houston Texans, they've been looking for a long-term solution at quarterback.
"What we have done is we've said we wanted to strengthen ourselves at the quarterback position so we could get consistent play," McNair said. "We're not saying we have to have a star performer at that position, we just want to get consistent performers and I think we are in a position to do that."
They'll attempt to do that through the competition between Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback role. McNair believes the winner of that competition will give the Texans consistency they need.
"I think so," McNair said. "We don't know who will come out on top. It's open, they know it. They both have talent. We know more about Hoyer than we do about Mallett because Mallett hasn't had a chance to play. We'll let em compete and we'll be a better team as a result of it."
And with a consistent player at quarterback, McNair believes the Texans can win a Super Bowl.
"Teams have done that," he said. "Look at Baltimore back in 2000. They had an outstanding defense. They could run the ball and they had a quarterback that didn't turn it over that much. I think that is a plan that can bring you great success. Look what we did last year playing four quarterbacks. We didn't have that consistent play at quarterback and yet look how close we came. We've improved our defense this year."
The Ravens' model is one that a lot of teams point to when they don't have a star quarterback. Since Trent Dilfer's Super Bowl triumph, here's the list of Super-Bowl winning quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Brad Johnson, Peyton and Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. They aren't all elite quarterbacks, but most are.
That the Texans have searched for that elusive player so long tells McNair something else.
"It shows you how difficult it is to get a good quarterback," he said. "No. 1, I mean how many good ones have come along in the last 10 years. No. 2, when they came along were you in a position in the draft to draft any of them. Unfortunately when we had a no. 1 draft pick, there wasn't an Andrew Luck out there. A lot of that's pure luck."
PHOENIX -- Houston Texans owner Bob McNair brings a unique perspective to the NFL's committee for Los Angeles opportunities.
The first failed bid to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles lost to McNair when the league instead formed the expansion Texans.
"I understand what they’re going through," McNair said. "I’m familiar with the market. I know what a burden it is and how difficult it is to bring all the people together to have the opportunity to construct a first-class stadium, and that’s not easy."
What did he learn about the market that’s helpful now?
"I could see that the market there is more fragmented," McNair said. "Los Angeles does not cover all of southern California, it covers a small area. And then you’ve got Pasadena and you’ve got Industry and Carson and on and on with those other cities scattered around. In terms of getting any type of public support, it was difficult for anyone trying to get a stadium at that point in time to get all those different communities together."
What's helping the current push to move a team to Los Angeles is the fact that the stadiums will not be mostly publicly funded.
"I think what’s happened is we’ve learned through the use of [personal seat licenses] you can raise a lot more money than we ever expected," McNair said. "That can be used to help finance the stadium. It sort of supplants the public funds that would have been put up. It’s just economically not feasible for the owner to put up 100 percent of the money.
"... That’s how we sold the project in Houston, it was sort of user pay. The hotel occupancy tax, well football draws a lot of people in. The rental car tax, people from out of town come in, they rent cars. It’s not property taxes that were supporting it. With PSLs it’s a way for the fans to make an investment in the stadium. Colleges have been doing this for years. If you want to get a good seat at a Texas A&M game or a University of Texas game, it depends on how much money you give the school. And it’s a lot more, frankly, than what people pay for PSLs. They’re doing it every year, whereas with a PSL it’s a one-time purchase."
PHOENIX -- When the Houston Texans signed Vince Wilfork to a two-year deal last week, the assumption was the Texans' interest came from the organization's ties to the New England Patriots organization, where both Bill O'Brien and Romeo Crennel were once coordinators.
Those ties are very real. Here at the league meetings at the Arizona Biltmore, Patriots reporter Mike Reiss spotted O'Brien catching up with some old friends from New England, and talked with Texans owner Bob McNair about the connections.
On Wilfork in particular, though, the Texans' interest predates O'Brien's arrival.
“I wanted to sign him two or three years ago, when he was a free agent," McNair said. "I was all for it then, but we weren’t able to do that. I didn’t have a chance to meet him because I was going in and out of town during that period of time, but I know enough about him to know what kind of guy he is and we’re delighted to have him."
Wilfork last was set to become a free agent in 2010, but the New England Patriots placed the franchise tag on him to restrict his movement in free agency. Signing Wilfork despite his tag would have cost the Texans two first-round picks -- likely a prohibitive cost. So while the reality of signing Wilfork back then was likely low, the interest was there.
Most significant addition: When the rumblings began that the Houston Texans wanted quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, not one or the other, it seemed both strange and unlikely they'd be able to get both. But after a (probably unnecessarily) drawn-out process with both players, the Texans got their men. It sets up a competition at the most important position on the roster -- a competition that will play out during the team's offseason workouts and training camp. Both players have upside, both players have familiarity with the system and both players believe in themselves as starters.
Most significant loss: Andre Johnson. At the current moment, Johnson is the greatest Texan in franchise history. For all but one year of its existence, this franchise has been about Johnson catching passes from whatever quarterback the Texans were trying to make work at the time. As it often is, the end was ugly. Johnson was told he'd no longer be a starter and he went public with it. Then he signed with the one team that's been a thorn for the Texans, the team he spent 12 seasons trying to topple. The Texans released Johnson, at his request, and he is now an Indianapolis Colt.
Biggest surprise: I'm sticking with Johnson here. My biggest surprise of the past week was that the Texans and Johnson didn't work something out, which is what I expected. In retrospect the way it ended makes sense, but the fact that Johnson would be gone -- not remain with the team on some sort of restructured deal -- surprised me. I thought both sides would have reasons to want to make it work.
What's next: With nose tackle Vince Wilfork and receiver Cecil Shorts in the fold, the Texans have touched on most of their needs. What they haven't will likely be addressed in the draft. Despite the signing of Shorts, I can see the Texans looking for a receiver early. They'll also need to resolve inside linebacker.
Update, 3 p.m. ET: The Houston Texans and free-agent wide receiver Cecil Shorts have agreed to a two-year deal, a source told ESPN's Adam Caplan. Shorts joins a receiving corps that currently includes DeAndre Hopkins, Keshawn Martin, DeVier Posey, Damaris Johnson, Alan Bonner, Jace Davis, EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart.
HOUSTON -- The Texans are visiting with former Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts on Monday, a source confirmed, and as he does, let's take a look at what you should know about Shorts.
Having attended Division III Mount Union (which also produced Pierre Garcon), Shorts went largely unnoticed coming out of college. A contributing factor was that Shorts suffered an injury during an East-West Shrine Game practice that year, reducing his opportunity to be seen. The Jaguars' regime at the time was delighted that injury kept him hidden and drafted him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. He began his career with Blaine Gabbert as his quarterback, which isn't ideal for any receiver.
Shorts is talented and has the potential to be a very good receiver for a team. The one issue with him is potentially a big one: he's got a long injury history. I checked in with our Jaguars reporter, Mike DiRocco, and he offered this on Shorts:
Shorts has been productive when he has been healthy, catching 176 passes for 2,343 yards and 12 touchdowns in four seasons with the Jaguars. His best season came in 2012 when he caught 55 passes for 979 yards and seven touchdowns.
However, he’s had problems staying healthy. He has missed 14 games in his career because of a concussion and groin and hamstring injuries. He ended the 2012 and 2013 seasons on injured reserve and he missed three of the Jaguars’ first five games this season because of a hamstring injury. That capped a stretch in which he missed eight of a possible 24 games because of injuries. He missed six games as a rookie with hamstring injuries.
The 2014 season was supposed to be Shorts’ contract year but turned out to be a disappointment. He did lead the Jaguars in receptions but he had a critical fumble in the first game against Tennessee and two bad drops in the first game against Houston. Shorts never emerged as the team’s No. 1 receiver despite being the only player on the roster to enter the 2014 season with more than 32 career catches and finished with 53 catches for 577 yards and one touchdown. The receptions and yardage were the fewest he’s had since he caught two passes for 30 yards as a rookie.
That was far from the worst-case scenario for the compartment syndrome that gripped his leg during the 2013 season. Some have their legs amputated from it, but Moore wouldn't let that happen. When he returned for the 2014 season, he said he felt like it was his first time playing football all over again. But Moore recovered, and simply signing his second NFL contract means a great deal to the fifth-year player.
"I’m a very thankful man to be standing," Moore said, "to be able to join this organization and to play the game of football that I love."
Moore signed a three-year deal worth $12 million after visiting with the Texans on Wednesday and dining with his future teammates and position coach that evening. Pro Football Focus had Moore rated as the second-best available safety after Devin McCourty, who re-signed with the New England Patriots.
As often happens in free agency, Moore signed on his first visit.
"When I found out the Texans wanted me, I immediately said, ‘I wanted to be a Texan,’" Moore said. "I told everyone. I was telling people I was going to be a Texan before I even came up here. I just envisioned myself in that jersey and envisioned myself playing with some of my partners on the team."
Moore has a relationship with Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson, with whom he's worked out in the offseasons, and also knows Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. Jackson and his wife joined defensive backs coach John Butler to take Moore and his wife to dinner Wednesday night. Jackson himself recently re-signed with the Texans on a four-year deal worth $34 million.
Moore talked a lot about his comfort level in Houston.
"Everybody is cool," Moore said. "Everybody is excited. I love the family-orientated [vibe] here. It’s real good. It’s very welcoming, so I’m looking forward to it."
That's important for someone who's just gone through free agency for the first time.
Moore spent four seasons with the Broncos after being drafted in the second round in 2011. Last year Moore grabbed four interceptions and forced two fumbles. Leaving Denver -- considering what he went through with his leg as a Bronco -- wasn't easy.
"I actually wanted to retire there," Moore said. "I loved it that much, but since I’ve come here I’ve realized that there is more to offer here. I realize that Denver is not the only team. Yeah, I thank them for everything they’ve done for me. I had a tremendous opportunity being there, playing with so many great players, and just experiencing the exposure, but I think since I’ve been here I have that same experience and exposure, but even better.
"You got to look towards the future, and the Texans are my future."
Things weren't right, even after his return.
"I knew it a while ago," said Johnson, who joined the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday, when asked when he knew he probably wouldn't be back with the Texans after last season. "I knew it before the season even started."
When Johnson reported for training camp in July, he was asked if he saw himself finishing his career in Houston and said, "That's my plan."
He spoke of an "upbeat" atmosphere within the Texans organization, one that was more upbeat "probably than it has ever been."
He said all of his conversations with Texans coach Bill O'Brien were positive.
The public show of frustration with the organization began in 2013. After arguing with then-quarterback Matt Schaub and walking off the field before a game was over, Johnson was asked if he still wanted to be here. He replied, "I'm under contract, so I can't do anything about that."
During the spring, at an event in which he donated to the Houston Area Women's Center, Johnson revealed why he hadn't been at offseason workouts and didn't plan to attend the Texans' mandatory minicamp. He said he wasn't sure he wanted to remain with the Texans but that he didn't ask for a trade.
After some time apart during the summer of 2014, he returned to the facility and had a conversation with owner Bob McNair that seemed to smooth things over. Actually, it might not have really done that.
For most of the 2014 season, Johnson didn't seem disgruntled, but this interaction just before the bye week showed frustration with the team's direction.
"I'm trying to help the team win," Johnson said at the time. "But I only can do what I can do. I can't control everything. I only can control what I can. That's it. I can't block. I can't cover guys. I can't throw the ball. All I can do is run routes and try to get open and catch the ball."
He said he wasn't sure there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and when asked if he was getting open, he noted that we watch the games. Asked if he would speak to O'Brien about his role, he said he didn't think there was much to talk about. That followed a game in which Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Cary Williams told Sports Radio 610 he wasn't the same player.
Then there was this from Wednesday's conference call. Johnson was asked if that feeling he might be gone lingered during the 2014 season.
"It bothered me a little bit because you have people tell you that they want you to be a Texan for life, they want you to retire as a Texan, and then at the end the year they let you go," Johnson said. "Like I said, I knew. I just had a feeling it was going to happen."
You have to wonder how much that colored his 2014 season.
HOUSTON -- The fairy-tale ending is when a player spends his entire career with one organization, wins a Super Bowl and retires a legend. The ending for Andre Johnson and the Houston Texans appears it will be more Hollywood than fairy tale.
Cut by the team that drafted him, the greatest offensive player in Texans history is joining its most hated rival. That's the skeleton version of a story that's gone through so many twists in the past 12 months.
It's official I'm a Colt https://t.co/DZg6dvH4TN— andre johnson (@johnson80) March 11, 2015
There's so much that makes this the perfect fit for Johnson. He gets to play with a young and talented quarterback -- the most talented quarterback he's had in his career. He reunites with Chuck Pagano, the Colts coach who recruited him to Miami a decade and a half ago, and running back Frank Gore, a teammate on that Miami team.
But there's so much that makes this a painful fit for the Texans organization.
This is a franchise that's lived in the shadow of the AFC South kings for so long. They've never beat the Colts in Indianapolis. They only won the division when the Colts were down, when they were rebooting their franchise with Andrew Luck. While Houston has spent its entire existence searching for a franchise quarterback, the Colts almost seamlessly transitioned from Peyton Manning to Luck.
Johnson saw his friend Reggie Wayne reap the benefits of that for his 14 seasons in Indianapolis. The Colts cutting Wayne made room for Johnson's arrival.
Now two games a year -- games that will almost certainly be prime-time features -- will be tinged with vengeance. Twice a year he can face the team that didn't think he was good enough anymore, with a chance to prove them wrong. Conversely, the Texans will have the chance to prove they were right and that their business decision was wise.
Those will be emotional games for Johnson, whether or not he admits it. He'll return to games against Houston to a fan base divided in its feelings for him. Some feel betrayed he chose Indianapolis. Some believe the Texans betrayed him. Others accept that it was time for the end between Johnson and the Texans.
One fan on Twitter quoted Batman character Harvey Dent, from the movie "The Dark Knight."
"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain," Dent said in the movie.
Fairy-tale endings are rare in the NFL. This Hollywood ending might just be a little spicier, anyway.