Andre Johnson will change AFC South uniforms next season, but his motivation is still the same: Win a Super Bowl ring.
In the end, his Wednesday decision to join the Indianapolis Colts came down to his bottom line. The 13th-year pro decided a team led by quarterback Andrew Luck gives him the best opportunity to accomplish his NFL goal.
“Yeah, that was a very big part,” Johnson said on a conference call with Indianapolis media. “I wanted to be at a place that had a stable quarterback. I feel like Andrew is arguably the best quarterback in the game, playing against him twice a year, getting a chance to watch him a lot. Like I said, I felt like this was a good place where I could win a championship.”
There were other factors, of course, but it still comes down to Luck.
Johnson managed to become the Houston Texans’ all-time leader in the most important pass-catching categories: 1,012 receptions, 13,597 yards receiving and 64 touchdowns.
Imagine what Johnson should be able to do in the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense with Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, emerging second-year receiver Donte Moncrief as well as tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. And Gore, the San Francisco 49ers’ all-time leading rusher as well as a Johnson college teammate with the Miami Hurricanes, will be in the backfield anchoring the running game.
“That’s what we came here for,” Johnson said of winning a ring. “Other than that, I don’t really know what else to tell you. We came here to win and try to accomplish that ultimate goal.”
He was more succinct about the mission when asked if it’s the biggest thing in his career.
”That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “That’s the only thing that matters.”
For a man who has made millions, the ring means more than money. Perhaps that explains why he decided to join the Colts instead of accepting more money from San Diego, which was prepared to offer him more than the Colts’ $21 million over three years, according to Ian Rapport of NFL.com and NFL Network.
Johnson experienced just four playoff games in his 183-game Texans career, losing each time in the AFC Divisional round. His frustration was near an end in the 2014 offseason, when he demanded to be traded. He lost $1 million in not showing up for offseason workouts, just to show how serious he was.
He eventually played for the Texans, who rebounded from a 2-14 disaster to 9-7 last season. But they missed the playoffs, again, for the 10th time in his career. He’s only been on four teams with winning records. He’s been 2-14 twice.
“It was frustrating, but you know, you just try to make the best out of your opportunities,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately with the Texans, it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. I’m starting a new chapter now, so that’s what I’m focusing on right now.”
That new chapter means a new number, too. He’ll wear No. 81 instead of No. 80, which is worn by Fleener. But Johnson wasn’t interested in asking for his old number.
“This is a new chapter for me, so I’ll be wearing No. 81,” he said.
In a sense, Johnson is replacing an old friend in Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who was not re-signed after his 14th season. They used to work out together in the offseason. Wayne hasn’t said anything publicly about the Colts’ decision, which disappointed fans who adored No. 87.
Wayne said in 2012 that one of his offseason options before re-signing with the Colts was to be Johnson’s teammate with the Texans. Their ties are linked to their college alma mater, the Miami Hurricanes. Their friendship began when Wayne hosted Johnson on a recruiting visit.
“Yeah, I talked to Reggie,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say it’s awkward. I think it’s just the nature of the business. He was very happy for me. I called him and let him know, but I wouldn’t say that it’s awkward.”
Asked if he thought Wayne could still play, in light of a recent report that he intended to suit up for one more Colts season and then retire, Johnson said, “I’ll let Reggie answer that question. But if I had my opinion, I think he still has football left in him.”
Johnson has the respect of many, including longtime Texans beat writer John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. After the Texans released Johnson on Monday, McClain tweeted: “The team that signs Andre Johnson gets a player of the highest character, a player who leads by example and has a tremendous work ethic.”
McClain, who has known and admired Luck since the quarterback’s high school days in Houston, also tweeted this amusing observation: “When Andrew Luck visits his grandparents and other relatives in Houston, Texans should kidnap him and hide him till both games are played.”
There was another factor that undoubtedly factored in Johnson’s decision. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was once a Hurricanes assistant and involved in recruiting. He visited Johnson’s home and attended his basketball games.
Johnson, like Wayne this past season, had said he wanted to be with his team “for life.” But he admitted before last season, presumably because of the 2014 offseason discord, he knew his Texans career was going to end.
The Texans couldn’t afford to keep him at a $16.1 million salary cap hit.
“It bothered me a little bit because you have people tell you that they want you to be a Texan for life,” he said of his release. “They want you to retire as a Texan and then at the end the year, they let you go. Like I said, I knew. I just had a feeling it was going to happen.”
He’s been named All-Pro twice and a Pro Bowl selection seven times. He’s set so many records. Nobody in NFL history has averaged more catches per game than Johnson’s six. He also holds the league record with 21 career games of 10-or-more receptions for 100-or-more receiving yards.
But those are just numbers. They don’t matter most to him. Especially not now.
“Like I said before, I just felt like this was the best place where I could win a championship and help win a championship,” Johnson said. “That’s what it’s all about. That’s the reason why we play the game. That’s why I’m here.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.