Andre Johnson and Frank Gore have apparently decided to join forces for the Indianapolis Colts, according to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, although nothing can be final until 4 p.m. today, when free agency officially begins.
Both were flying to Indianapolis on Colts owner Jim Irsay’s private plane, according to Zierlein’s report. ESPN’s Adam Schefter, quoting an unnamed source, reported Gore has agreed to a three-year, $12-million deal with $7.5 million guaranteed.
Johnson is expected to spend the night in Indy, which makes it sound as if his status is uncertain, but Zierlein reported it was Johnson who phoned Gore, his old college teammate at the University of Miami, and pitched the idea of both playing for the Colts.
Both would fill obvious needs for a Super Bowl contender lacking a lead running back, especially after the Trent Richardson failed two-year experiment, and a seasoned wide receiver with size, in the wake of Friday’s decision to not re-sign Reggie Wayne.
The Colts were 22nd in rushing last season. Gore, 31, is a five-time Pro Bowl star who set the San Francisco 49ers’ all-time rushing record with 11,073 yards in 10 seasons. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield and is an excellent blocker.
Johnson, 33, set all the major pass receiving records for the Houston Texans with 1,012 catches for 13,597 yards and 64 TDs in 12 seasons. The Texans couldn’t afford to keep him at a $16.1 million salary cap hit, offered him for a trade to no avail, then released him Monday.
If Johnson does follow through on this plan, it will be an ironic twist considering he and Wayne are friends and have worked out together in offseasons. Johnson would essentially be taking Wayne’s spot, admittedly at a more expensive price. Wayne cost $6.1 million against the salary cap last season. Johnson will likely receive $8-10 million per year.
The Colts decided it was time to move on after 14 seasons with Wayne, who according to a source wanted to play one more year and then retire.
Gore was supposedly a done deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, but according to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports, the running back told a friend he became concerned about Chip Kelly’s intense and overbearing demeanor as well as offseason moves made by the team.
While both players are proven NFL stars, immediate reaction on social media was to be expected — Colts fans are wondering how much the two 30-somethings have in the tank. And the team still has obvious defensive needs to address along the line and at safety.
Gore actually averaged more yards per carry last season, 4.3, than the previous year, 4.1, and he’s rushed for 1,000 yards in eight of nine seasons. The lone exception was when he missed five games in 2010. In the last four years, he’s run the ball 255 to 282 times a year. He’s a three-down back who has proven to be durable.
Johnson’s numbers dipped last season to 85 catches for 936 yards and three TDs, but he would be joining the NFL’s No. 1 pass offense. The seven-time Pro Bowl selection has never had a quarterback the caliber of Andrew Luck throwing to him, and the Colts have several other options in speedy wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, second-year pro Donte Moncrief as well as tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
Both players were Hurricanes teammates in 2001 and 2002, when current Colts associate coach Rob Chudzinski was offensive coordinator. Gore is also connected to Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach in 2006. They were said to have a good relationship that season.
Gore and Johnson have one other thing in common — both are seeking their first Super Bowl ring.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.