BOSTON (CBS) — It has never been Bill Belichick’s way to make hasty decisions. He never sacrifices long-term in order to gain a short-term advantage. It’s a strategy that has worked better than any other NFL coach for the past decade-plus, and the results would tell you that there’s no need for a change in philosophy.
Yet if ever there were a time for Bill to change course, it would be now. And it would be for Andre Johnson.
The veteran wide receiver is upset with the Houston Texans, the only NFL team he’s ever known. He’s coming off a 109-catch, 1,407-yard, five-touchdown season for the Texans, but the team finished 2-14. As Johnson approaches his 33rd birthday in July, he has little time to wait for the Texans to get him to a Super Bowl, and he’s making that be known by skipping OTAs this week and planning to skip mandatory minicamp as well.
The short of it is that Johnson wants out.
Given the caliber of player, the construction of the current roster, and the time, the Patriots should absolutely be willing to do whatever it takes to get Johnson to New England.
The reasons are obvious.
There is, of course, the ever-present “closing window” for Tom Brady. Admittedly, it’s an overused term that is utilized to inspire panic throughout New England, but the fact remains that Brady will turn 37 years old in August and only has a few years left to play in the NFL. Cliche or no cliche, that’s a fact. He’s arguably the best QB in history, and the franchise owes it to Brady to do everything in its power to help in the quest for at least one more Super Bowl.
Would pinning all championship hopes on Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell really count as doing everything that’s possible to win a Super Bowl?
Sure, Dobson had a fine rookie season, and he should be improved in 2014. But the Patriots need a game-changing, impact wide receiver right now, and it just so happens that a 6-foot-3, 230-pound, seven-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro is looking for a new team.
Johnson, for his part, clearly wants a quarterback and a head coach that can get him where he wants to go. The match is one made in football heaven.
What’s unknown is what it will cost to pry Johnson from the Texans. Belichick typically doesn’t give up much to get a player. For evidence, look as far as the trade for Randy Moss, when he only parted ways with a fourth-round pick in order to acquire a Hall of Fame talent. And even if the Texans were willing to say goodbye to Johnson for something as small as a draft pick and backup QB Ryan Mallett, there are still salary complications that would factor in for both sides.
Johnson is due to count $11 million against the salary cap in 2014, and the Patriots don’t currently have that room. It would also cost the Texans $4.6 million against the cap this year and $7.3 million in 2015 if they trade Johnson after June 1.
If Johnson truly wants to go to a winning team, he’s going need to restructure and take a pay cut to do so, and he’s going to have to convince the Texans that taking on that cap hit is their only course of action. Both the Patriots and Texans would have to be willing to do the headache-inducing work that comes with finagling such salaries.
Is it complicated? Yes. Is it impossible? No way.
And if the Patriots think back to that Sunday afternoon in Denver, the day when Brady was throwing passes to Matthew Mulligan and Austin Collie and Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Slater, they must know they need Andre Johnson if they want to once again reign supreme over the NFL.
Last year, Johnson still managed to be a monster, despite his quarterbacks being Matt Schaub, Case Keenum and T.J. Yates. He caught 12 passes for 146 yards in a Week 1 win in San Diego, and he caught eight passes for 76 yards the following week in a victory over Tennessee. He caught nine for 110 yards against the beastly Seattle defense, and he caught nine passes for a ridiculous 229 yards against the AFC South-champion Colts. He made 10 receptions for 116 yards against Oakland, and he caught 13 for 154 against Jacksonville.
Oh, and against the Patriots, he hauled in eight receptions for 121 yards. So Belichick has certainly had a front-row seat to see how dangerous the man can be.
Now imagine what he can do if you substitute Tom Brady in for the Three Stooges who were under center for Houston last season.
Johnson wants to win it all, and he probably thought he had a real shot do that in 2012. Yet the Patriots walloped Johnson’s 11-1 Texans with a 42-14 beatdown in Week 14 on national TV, and later that year, the Patriots ended Johnson’s season with another lopsided 41-28 whooping in the playoffs. Despite identical stat lines of eight receptions for 95 yards in each game for Johnson, his Lombardi hopes were dashed by the Patriots, and a 2-14 season followed. It would stand to reason that he thinks rather highly of Belichick’s team.
Belichick already broke character this offseason when he signed Darrelle Revis, the best possible player to add to the New England defense. Now, it’s time to do the same for the offense. Given the way last year’s AFC Championship Game played out, it’s not hyperbole to say that adding a receiver of Johnson’s caliber can be the difference in winning a Super Bowl or having yet another season — one of the few left for Brady — end in disappointment.
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