NFL Nation: Andre Johnson

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel and starting safety Mike Mitchell did not practice on Thursday, but inside linebacker Ryan Shazier participated in drills on a limited basis for the second consecutive day.

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Keisel
Mitchell
Keisel and Mitchell are working their way back from knee injuries, and the latter said on Wednesday that he plans on playing Monday night against the Houston Texans.

Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) have already been ruled out for the 8:30 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.

In addition to Keisel and Mitchell, fullback Will Johnson did not practice on Thursday because of an illness. Strong safety Troy Polamalu was given a veteran’s day off.

Shazier, who has missed the past three games with a sprained knee, is still limited as he tries to work his work way back to the field.

Strong safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) and defensive end Cameron Heyward (ankle) were also limited in practice. Heyward has said he will play against the Texans.

In Houston, linebackers Jadeveon Clowney (knee), Brian Cushing (knee), and Brooks Reed (groin) did not practice because of injuries. Cornerback Darryl Morris (ankle) also missed drills.

Running back Arian Foster (groin), wide receiver Andre Johnson (ankle), cornerback Johnathan Joseph (knee) and linebackers Mike Mohamed (calf) and Jeff Tarpinian (knee) all practiced on a limited basis.
HOUSTON -- This could be a problem for the Houston Texans against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

 Andre Johnson is questionable with an ankle injury. He said Wednesday that his ankle was fine, but that was Wednesday and something could have happened during the week to aggravate the injury. Johnson did not practice Wednesday, was limited on Thursday and then did not practice on Friday.

Running back Arian Foster, who played through a hamstring injury last week, but was not fully healthy and so not fully effective, is listed as probable, which indicates a 75 percent chance he'll play. It's rare for someone listed as probable to not play.

Another big issue for the Texans this week will be with their secondary. They were able to soften the blog of losing A.J. Bouye, their third corner, last week, because Darryl Morris stepped in and played well. They'll be without Bouye and Morris this week.

"We’ve done a good job, I believe, with the depth there," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "We do have some guys there, if a guy goes down, the next guy needs to step up and we have confidence in that. Where it affects you is in special teams."

Rookie Andre Hal will see a lot more playing time because of this.

"He’s definitely improved," O'Brien said of Hal. "He’s gotten better and better as time has gone on here. He’s got a high ceiling. He’s a smart guy, he’s a very hard working guy. He understands the scheme. Probably the main way he can get better is through experience."

Here's the full game status report:

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Cowboys
Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 21-30.

1. Receiver rep: If you told someone that the Houston Texans' Andre Johnson is the eighth-best receiver in the NFL, as #NFLRank placed him in 2014, you probably wouldn't get much argument. But if you asked for a preference between Johnson, the Cleveland Browns' Josh Gordon or the Washington Redskins' DeSean Jackson, you might very well get a different answer. Clearly, Gordon's off-field issues make it difficult to make an accurate projection for the short-term. All things equal, however, he is a better player at 23 than Johnson is at 33. You could make an argument Jackson should be ranked ahead of Johnson, as well. Although it's not his fault, the Texans' woeful quarterback situation for this season does not bode well for a big year.

2. QB comparison: The composite #NFLRank voter would take Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson over the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (by a small margin) and the San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers (by a bit more). Would you? There is no doubt that Wilson is younger, thus giving us fair reason to assume we probably haven't seen him yet at his best. He is a perfect quarterback for the way the Seahawks are constructed as a dominant team with an elite running back. On the other hand, what would happen if Wilson quarterbacked a team that relied on passing production to win, as both Roethlisberger and Rivers have done at times in their careers -- would he match them? It's at least a reasonable debate to engage.

3. Lavonte and Lovie: As he enters his third season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Lavonte David is already considered by #NFLRank voters to be the No. 25 defensive player in the NFL. His elite playmaking last season is especially impressive for a 4-3 outside linebacker, and there is plenty of interest and excitement around the league for how new Bucs coach Lovie Smith will use him in 2014. In Smith's scheme, it must be remembered, fellow outside linebacker Lance Briggs developed into one of this generation's best defensive players for the Chicago Bears. It's rare for an outside linebacker in any scheme to compile seven sacks, intercept five passes and defend a total of 10 passes in one season. David is versatile and should be a force for years to come.
HOUSTON -- Gone are the days off for veterans just because they're veterans.

Gone are the nights when only rookies are forced to stay in the team hotel throughout training camp.

No Texans are spared from coach Bill O'Brien's sharp tongue. None are spared from running a lap for a mental error.

And you know what? The players like it.

"I love it; it's great," 12-year veteran Andre Johnson said when asked about O'Brien's demeanor. "The one thing that I like about him, and I think that’s the thing when I first met him, he’s straight up with you. He will let you know what needs to be heard. He’s not just going to tell you what you want to hear. I love his demeanor; it’s fun. I think just his whole attitude and everything he brings is a lot of fun."

Accountability has taken precedence during this first Texans training camp of the O'Brien era. What it means for the season is yet unknown, but after a 2-14 campaign in 2013, it was clear things had to change in Houston.

It's the basis from which the team that won consecutive division championships not too long ago will crawl out of the league's cellar.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Hopkins
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexans receiver DeAndre Hopkins has shown soft hands throughout training camp.
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

  1. In his second season since being drafted in the first round, receiver DeAndre Hopkins' development seems to have taken a major step. The sure-handed leaping catches he made so often in college are becoming a staple of training camp. (Aside: It's crazy to think about those Clemson teams that had both Hopkins and Bills rookie Sammy Watkins. What an embarrassment of riches.) Hopkins' issues last season weren't based so much on ability as they were on precision. He seems on the right track this season. Johnson said it's clear Hopkins is playing with a lot of confidence, something that's critical for a receiver. What's even better is that his chemistry with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is improving regularly.
  2. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has been working through the rehab process from his sports hernia surgery in June, which has limited what he can do during practices. When the staff has let Clowney loose, though, he is a lot of fun to watch. He's quick, powerful and fast. He will absolutely be a player for whom offenses have to account. When an offense is thinking about one player, that's a big advantage for a defense. Not to mention, opposing offenses were already having to keep an eye on defensive end J.J. Watt, who hasn't missed a beat.
  3. Two young players have made significant progress this offseason: right tackle Derek Newton and inside linebacker Justin Tuggle. Newton, the declared starter at the position, struggled last season, but based on what I've seen and heard during training camp this year, he'll be much better in pass protection this season. Tuggle was a quarterback four years ago (the successor to Cam Newton at Blinn College). The fact that he's played linebacker for such a short amount of time means even though he's improved tremendously in the past year, he still has a lot of room to grow. He's competing to be the Texans' starter next to Brian Cushing.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

  1. The fact that Brandon Brooks is still on the Texans' non-football injury list is concerning. Brooks began training camp on the list for what appears to be a back injury. Brooks really came into his own at right guard last season. He's a player who had very high expectations because of that growth, and one the Texans need. Without him, the guard position starts to thin a bit.
  2. The Texans' quarterback situation is tenuous right now. I like the improvement I've seen from Fitzpatrick, but what we're watching right now does not quite simulate game conditions for quarterbacks since they can't be touched during practice. Fitzpatrick's issues in the past have had a lot to do with turnovers, and the decision-making process that leads to or prevents turnovers is hard to simulate in practice. Beyond Fitzpatrick, the depth at the position is concerning. Neither Case Keenum nor Tom Savage has shown during practice that they could be viable starters in case of an injury during the season. For Savage, it's part of the learning process. Nobody expects the raw but talented rookie to be ready just yet.
  3. Beyond a wily group of veterans, the Texans have a lot of unproven players they'll depend on defensively. When looking past Watt on the defensive line, there are more questions than answers. Who will play nose tackle? How will defensive end Jared Crick do in a starting role? Questions remain on the back end, too. This could be a big year for a lot of young players. But it's hard to know how they'll fare without any proof yet.
[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJ.J. Watt has taken the time to help his teammates with technique during camp.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • Whether it's linebackers coach Mike Vrabel running with his group after practice or defensive backs coach John Butler facing his players during drills to compensate for an odd number of cornerbacks, this Texans staff is particularly hands-on. It starts at the top with O'Brien, a coach who makes sure to be involved with every position on his team.
  • Safety D.J. Swearinger's goal this season is to create at least one game-changing play in each game, whether that's an interception, a forced fumble or even a pass breakup that leads to a turnover. Swearinger is getting started in practice, regularly intercepting the ball. And each time he does it, he runs it back to the opposite end zone, finishing with an ad-libbed celebratory flair.
  • Player-to-player coaching happens a lot, and Watt is embracing his growing role as a team leader in that fashion. During a recent practice, he stopped Jeoffrey Pagan during a drill to offer tips on moves to use.
  • A pair of receivers from Texas A&M are doing their best to make it difficult for the coaching staff to cut them. EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart make very few mistakes. Nwachukwu's speed is apparent. His work on route-running has shown during this year's camp.
  • Undrafted rookie Chris Boswell and third-year kicker Randy Bullock are competing to be the Texans' kicker. That battle will be decided during the preseason. They've so far alternated kicking days, and both have made their fair share.
HOUSTON -- While some players such as safety Kendrick Lewis returned to practice today, the Houston Texans remained without several big names.

Receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster, outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Johnathan Joseph all missed practice on Tuesday. Tuesday's practice was the fifth consecutive practice since the Texans' previous day off. The Texans will be off on Wednesday.

Foster and Johnson have each missed seven practices with soft tissue injuries that coach Bill O'Brien has termed as minor.

"You can’t stop the installation or the flow of the offense just because a couple guys are out," O'Brien said. "It’s important for those guys to stay up to snuff on the mental part of our offense and make sure that they’re understanding what we’re doing out there. That is why they go over there and do their rehab and sprinting and things during our individual and then they come over during team and walk throughs and things like that, and take mental reps.

"One of the things about the NFL is you go into the game with a game plan. You better have a backup plan. No doubt about it. If you go into that game and say something were to happen to Arian or Andre or anybody out there, you’ve got to be ready with either Plan B or some alteration to your game plan. That is really what we try to practice every single day here with what we do.”
Arian Foster returned for one padded practice on Wednesday. The Houston Texans had Thursday off and now he's back to watching from the sideline.

"You know, he’s doing OK," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "It’s kind of a day-to-day thing. It’s nothing serious. I would assume, guess you can’t assume anything, but I would assume he would be back pretty soon."

Foster played in eight games last season, then went on injured reserve and had back surgery. He also suffered calf and hamstring injuries during the offseason, which might have been related to his back issue. Foster turns 28 in August and has had more than 1,000 carries in the past three and a half seasons.

Receiver Andre Johnson also missed Friday's practice. Johnson has not practiced since Monday when he injured his right hamstring while making a diving catch.

"I think he’s doing better," O'Brien said. "I think that is something he and I talk about every day. I don’t think there is a need to rush him back. I think he needs to come back when he feels ready to be back. Again, that is not a serious injury, but it is not something that you need to rush him back."

Camp preview: Houston Texans

July, 17, 2014
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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.
IRVING, Texas -- Jimmy Graham was unable to declare himself a wide receiver in an arbitration case, but the New Orleans Saints tight end did fairly well with his reported four-year, $40 million deal that includes $21 million guaranteed.

As the Dallas Cowboys and Dez Bryant look for ways to come to an agreement on a long-term deal so they can avoid any franchise-tag hassle next offseason, can Graham’s deal be something of a barometer for Bryant?

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Bryant
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Graham argued he was a receiver because he lined up mostly off the line. It was an argument that was eventually denied by an arbiter, but there is some truth to what he was saying. Graham is not a tight end in the way Jason Witten is a tight end. But that is his position. Bryant will never be asked to put his hand on the ground to block somebody the way Graham is asked to do at least part of the time for the Saints.

But I digress. Let’s just look at the statistical comparisons of Bryant and Graham. Both players were selected in the 2010 draft. Bryant was a first-round pick, so he has an extra year on his rookie deal. Graham was a third-round pick.

In the past three seasons their numbers are fairly similar.

Bryant: 248 catches, 3,543 yards, 34 touchdowns.
Graham: 270 catches, 3,507 yards, 36 touchdowns.

Any discussions between the Cowboys and Bryant’s agent, Eugene Parker, have been kept under wraps for the most part. Most of the figures thrown around have been by the media. There are seven wide receivers with an average annual value of at least $10 million: Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Vincent Jackson.

Marshall, Johnson, Fitzgerald, Wallace, Bowe and Jackson have at least $20 million in guaranteed money in their deals, as does Andre Johnson, who is threatening a holdout from the Houston Texans' training camp.

Graham’s contract puts him in line with receivers if not with the top-paid guys like Johnson ($16.2 million), Fitzgerald ($16.1 million). Harvin ($12.9 million) and Wallace ($12 million) who cashed in during free agency. Bowe averages $11.2 million. The Washington Redskins signed DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $24 million deal that included $16 million guaranteed in the offseason.

So where does Bryant fit in? Should he get Graham’s $10 million average or play out the season and possibly get tagged (that was $12.3 million in 2014)?

There is some middle ground in which both sides can compromise, but Graham's deal could help define just where that ground is, even if he is a tight end (wink, wink).

IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant is right. He does deserve to be paid by the Dallas Cowboys. He has earned it.

The question is how will he be paid?

He is dynamic with the ball in his hands. He deserves to be in the conversation with the best receivers in the NFL, such as Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson and whoever else you want to add to the list. That doesn't mean he is at the top of the group just yet, but he deserves to be in the conversation.

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He is only 25. He has had more than 90 catches in each of the past two seasons. He has posted 1,382 and 1,233 yards the past two seasons, and he has caught 25 touchdown passes in that span. Those are elite numbers. And he went to his first Pro Bowl last season.

Bryant has improved each year on and off the field, and the Cowboys deserve praise for how they have helped guide him in certain manners. But Bryant deserves the most credit. He has developed close relationships with Jason Witten and Tony Romo. He has changed how he has operated.

He has become one of Jason Garrett’s guys. This year he will be asked to take more of a leadership role in the wide receivers’ meeting room with Miles Austin gone. He likes the responsibility and is not afraid of being “the guy.”

What will make or break a long-term deal for Bryant will be the structure of the contract. The Cowboys will want some insurance.

Most of the bigger deals for receivers revolve around large signing bonuses and lower base salaries in the first few years to help with the salary cap. But do the Cowboys follow that path? They want to keep Bryant hungry and happy. They have seen their past two big-time contracts for wide receivers (Roy Williams and Miles Austin) go up in smoke.

If something were to go awry with Bryant, the Cowboys don’t want to be in a position where they are hamstrung by the salary cap. With higher base salaries, the thinking is Bryant will have to remain motivated to make sure he cashes in every year. It also gives the team an out without killing them against the cap.

Believe it or not, the Cowboys can look at Terrell Owens’ deal in 2006 as a blueprint.

They structured Owens’ first contract with the Cowboys that way. In 2006, Owens received a $5 million signing bonus and $5 million salary in a three-year, $25 million deal. His base salaries in Years 2 and 3 were $7 million and $8 million. Owens had been upset at the structure of his deal when he signed with Philadelphia, which ultimately led him to the Cowboys after a hellacious year with the Eagles.

The Cowboys would want to avoid something similar with Bryant. His agent, Eugene Parker, has a good working relationship with the team, so there could be some common ground to find where Bryant is happy and the team is happy.
Running back Chris Johnson sent New York Jets fans into a Twitter frenzy Tuesday night, tweeting that the Jets should trade for disgruntled Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson.



A Johnson & Johnson attack for the Jets? Catchy. For obvious reasons, owner Woody Johnson probably likes the sound of it, but this is strictly fantasy football chatter at this point.

It's highly unlikely the Texans would trade Johnson, their best offensive weapon and arguably the most accomplished player in franchise history. As promised, he skipped a voluntary practice Tuesday, intensifying the speculation about his future in Houston. Johnson, reportedly unhappy with the direction of the team, recently wondered if he's still a fit.

The Jets spent big money to sign Eric Decker, but they could still use another quality wideout -- and they don't come much better than Johnson. Despite a terrible quarterback situation, he caught 109 passes for 1,407 yards last season. Johnson is a pro's pro and would help the Jets on many levels.

But keep dreaming, Jets fans.

The cold reality is that Johnson turns 33 in July and he's still owed $33.5 million over the next three seasons -- a huge number even for the Jets, who have about $23 million in cap room. For cap purposes, it makes no sense for the Texans to trade Johnson. Also remember that new coach Bill O'Brien is a Bill Belichick disciple, which means he probably won't be eager to accommodate the selfish desire of one player if it hurts the team. And a trade would hurt the Texans because there's no way they'd get fair-market value in return for the effective, but aging, receiver. If they did decide to move him, it would make sense to send him out of the AFC.

Wednesday's Jets practice is open to the media, which means Johnson can expect a lot of questions about his tweet. It also wouldn't be a surprise if he receives a message from John Idzik, who may tell Johnson to leave the GMing to him. After all, Johnson's job is to accumulate yards, not players.

There's a reason not every great coordinator can become a great head coach, or sometimes even a mildly successful head coach.

The skills necessary for a head coach are exponentially greater than at assistant positions. He's the man who has to organize the day to day. He's the public face of the organization. He explains the victories and defeats. He has to win the locker room and garner its respect and obedience.

It takes a man who understands people and interpersonal dynamics.

Given the way Texans coach Bill O'Brien has handled Andre Johnson's absence so far, it's clear he does.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderBill O'Brien has not allowed the Andre Johnson situation to become combative.
Johnson said two weeks ago that he was tired of losing and, as such, wasn't sure Houston was still the right organization for him. He said he hadn't asked for a trade or spoken to anyone about his contract, but he was thinking about things. He also said he wasn't going to attend organized team activities or the Texans' mandatory minicamp -- and he didn't attend the first day of OTAs.

Every time O'Brien has been asked about Johnson, he begins with the good.

"He and I have had positive conversations," O'Brien said Tuesday. "I have a ton of respect for him."

When the face of the franchise is upset, things can get awkward very quickly. It happened back in 2012 with the Jaguars when Maurice Jones-Drew held out for a new contract. The sides didn't communicate, they all felt slighted, and the new head coach, Mike Mularkey at the time, didn't hide his disdain much. In the end, neither got what he wanted and neither is still with the team.

Back when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was with the Denver Broncos, his relationship with new head coach Josh McDaniels began rockily. There were a lot of factors involved in the McDaniels/Cutler spat, but one that made things worse was McDaniels' rigid insistence that if he wanted to trade a player, even a quarterback who had just been named to the Pro Bowl, he could do it. In the end, again, neither got what he wanted and neither is still with the team.

Johnson v. Texans has taken on a much less combative tone and it's because both the disgruntled star and the new head coach have shown respect for each other. Part of that is O'Brien's understanding of how to deal with people.

Don't misunderstand that to mean he's a coach who coddles -- that couldn't be further from the truth. He'll scream at a guy who needs or deserves the yelling. But he seems to understand that not everybody needs to be handled in exactly the same way.

He could, when asked about Johnson, divert and gruffly reply that he only coaches the players who are there. Instead he acknowledges Johnson's career and Johnson's place in this franchise's history before going into the usual refrain about focusing on those who did participate in the voluntary workout.

"We’d love to have him here now," O'Brien continued Tuesday, after expressing his respect for the best player in Texans history. "That’s up to him. We’re moving forward with the players that are here. These guys are working extremely hard. That’s where it’s at."

In the first public test of his ability to act as the leader of an NFL team, O'Brien is behaving exactly like one should.


Bill Belichick's remarks to Sirius XM NFL Radio on backup quarterback Ryan Mallett sparked a discussion on ESPN's "NFL Insiders" show Friday.

Host Suzy Kolber asked ESPN senior analyst Chris Mortensen and former Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney for their analysis on the situation.

Mortensen detailed his thoughts, which he framed as "informed speculation," by saying that if second-round draft choice Jimmy Garoppolo "comes along and does quite well in OTAs and well into training camp, if somebody has a quarterback need or quarterback injury and they come calling and the Patriots feel good about Garoppolo, maybe Mallett is in play."

Kolber then asked Hurney how much teams really know about Mallett because he hasn't played much in the regular season from 2011-13.

"He was regarded highly enough as a quarterback coming out [in 2011], and I think the position creates interest in itself," Hurney answered. "I said this statement [from Belichick] is like if you ever go to dinner and a person says, 'I don't want dessert' so you order a chocolate cake and a big piece of chocolate cake comes out and all of a sudden you look and the other person is eating half of it. I think, if the chocolate cake looks good enough for Bill Belichick, they would be interested in trading Ryan Mallett."

Hurney then pitched his "perfect scenario" with the Houston Texans, while noting that any team trading for Mallett would need to extend his contract, which expires after the 2014 season.

"If I was the Texans, I would see if they were interested in Andre Johnson and say we would take a draft pick and throw Ryan Mallett in. So even if Ryan Mallett does not work out, you have the draft pick. [They're] rebuilding, really shooting for Year 3. Andre Johnson is 32 years old, doesn't have anyone proven throwing him the ball, so take that shot -- you get the draft pick, and if Ryan Mallett works out, you extend him and have your quarterback of the future."

There are questions you know you have to ask, and ones whose answers you assume you know.

So when Texans receiver Andre Johnson was asked today during a charity event about having missed the Texans' voluntary minicamp, I didn't expect him to say much. He's one of the most honest and professional players in that locker room, but he often downplays conflict.

Johnson
Johnson
The question was asked -- why weren't you at minicamp? -- and oh boy did he drop a bomb:

"When you've been somewhere for a long time, nobody's been here as long as I have -- I've been thinking about things this offseason, kind of wonder sometimes is this still the place for me."

Johnson made clear he hasn't asked for a trade and said explicitly that this isn't about his contract. But he said he's told the Texans how he feels: frustrated. He said right now he does not plan to attend organized team activities or the Texans mandatory minicamp.

It's quite a statement from the longest-tenured Texan, and Johnson wouldn't have made it if his frustrations hadn't reached an apex.

Recall, last season the most visible frustration we saw from Johnson came during the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders. Schaub yelled at Johnson about stopping his route, Johnson yelled back at Schaub, and then Johnson walked off the field. After that game Johnson was asked if he still wants to be in Houston. "I'm under contract," he replied. Not exactly a warm, fuzzy endorsement of the organization.

But after cooling off from that moment, Johnson insisted that interaction was overblown. His future comments were much less biting about the organization and he's consistently maintained since then that he always had a good relationship with Schaub.

Now he's looking around at what seems like a rebuilding process to him.

"Some people say it's not rebuilding, some people say it's a quick fix," Johnson said. "Everybody has their own opinion."

Johnson turns 33 in July -- not an age when rebuilding projects are appealing. He's only been to the playoffs twice, and isn't sure when he'll get back there again.
Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson Getty ImagesGreen Bay Packers receivers Randall Cobb (18) and Jordy Nelson are both in line for raises as they enter the final season of their current contracts.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At some point in the next 11 months -- likely sooner rather than later -- the Green Bay Packers will extend the contracts of receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.

Between now and when they scribble their names on their new deals there will be much discussion about each player's value.

Myriad factors come in to play during contract negotiations, but the most important ones are production, injury history (which is usually tied to production) and age (which can be tied to injury history).

Another factor you might hear thrown around when it comes to Cobb and Nelson is the unscientific term "No. 1 receiver" -- as in should either one or both be paid like one?

In an ESPN Insider piece, former NFL scout Matt Williamson helped define exactly what that term means .

He came up with four characteristics:

  • They need to have the ability to separate from man coverage, understand how to find the soft spots in zones and have very strong athletic traits.
  • They need to be strong, fast and play big, which often -- but not always -- can eliminate shorter wide receivers from this equation.
  • They must be productive, even when opposing defenses are scheming to take them out of the equation; No. 1 receivers can be uncoverable and never come off the field.
  • They must display the above traits with consistency.

What was perhaps most interesting about Williamson's list is that he came up with only 14 players in the NFL who fit his criteria.

"The term 'No. 1 receiver' is often thrown around loosely, but to me, there certainly are not 32 No. 1 receivers in the league just because every team has a favorite target," Williamson wrote.

Also, Williamson had two tight ends -- New England's Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham -- among his 14.

Among his 12 receivers, only four were among the NFL's top-10 highest-paid receivers (see the accompanying chart). They were: Detroit's Calvin Johnson (No. 1), Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (No. 2), Chicago's Brandon Marshall (No. 6) and Houston's Andre Johnson (No. 8).

However, six of the 12 are still playing under their rookie contracts and will be in line for significant raises on their next deal.

Back to the cases for whether Cobb and Nelson belong in that same category as they enter the final season of their current contracts.

According to Williamson, one of them should be considered a No. 1 receiver and the other is close. Also, it's possible for one team to have two No. 1 receivers, Williamson wrote, as is the case with the Bears (Marshall and Alshon Jeffery).

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Nelson cracked the list at No. 13 under the heading "Just ask their quarterbacks if they are No. 1 receivers." Williamson also put San Francisco's Michael Crabtree in that same category.

"With great size for the position, he is often mistaken for a possession weapon, however only three receivers converted more receptions of 20 or more yards last year, Williamson wrote of Nelson. "His deep speed and big-play ability is vastly underrated, but Nelson also is Aaron Rodgers' go-to target when Rodgers needs a first down and has always proven to be reliable.

"Nelson had his best season in 2013, accumulating over 1,300 receiving yards, and bear in mind that he was playing without Rodgers for much of that time. He isn't a product of the system or his surroundings and would be great in any environment."

Nelson's next contract will be his third. Midway through the 2011 season, he signed a three-year extension that averaged $4.2 million per season. That average ranks 32nd among all NFL receivers in 2014.

Williamson ranked Cobb among 11 players who he termed as "close but not quite" No. 1 receivers.

Cobb, who like Nelson was a second-round pick, is entering the final season of his rookie contract. Two factors likely kept Cobb out of Williamson’s top 14: his size (5-10, 192) and that he missed 10 games last season because of a fractured tibia.

But in 2012, Cobb caught 80 passes despite missing one game, and there is room for growth. He is entering his fourth season but won't turn 24 years old until late in training camp this summer, making him more than 5 years younger than Nelson, who turns 29 in May.
There is no doubt the San Francisco 49ers are interested in adding a receiver.

Johnson
Johnson
They checked in on several during free agency and the position is expected to be an early priority in the May 8-10 draft. So it’s no surprise that in an Insider piece, Field Yates, while proposing five trades that makes sense, explains why he thinks the 49ers should acquire a receiver. Insider

In Yates’ first proposal, he has the 49ers trading for Houston receiver Andre Johnson. He has the 49ers sending the Texans second- and fifth-round picks to the Texans for Johnson.

Here is Yates' reasoning for the 49ers making this swap:
In need of a wide receiver -- and with 11 picks in this draft -- the 49ers would be well-served to add Johnson. He has a manageable base salary of $6.5 million for 2014, an amount for which San Francisco could find cap space. The 49ers have a deep and talented roster, and while draft picks can result in young, affordable talent, the truth is there aren't that many spots available on the 53-man roster in San Francisco. Johnson brings a vertical presence to the perimeter passing game and would make an already Super Bowl-caliber team that much scarier.


My thoughts? Again, like Yates wrote, don’t expect it to happen. But I can see why he is proposing it. For the short term, this would make the 49ers very difficult to defend and make the offense more explosive. A receiving trio of Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Johnson, along with tight end Vernon Davis, would give quarterback Colin Kaepernick all kinds of options. It would be a pretty nice to way to attack Seattle’s super secondary as well. So, while this proposal is likely more fantasy than reality, it seems plausible from a need standpoint.

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