Andre Johnson will make the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense better.
Yeah, that’s saying something, considering how good it has been. But the importance of adding the Houston Texans’ all-time leading receiver Wednesday can’t be understated.
Individual appraisals of the free agents added will be shared in future stories, as well as how the Colts still have a long way to go in building a defense — which is incredibly important as we know from past playoff experiences. But for now, let’s put into perspective why Johnson could be the most important move of any made by the Colts this offseason.
Last week, I made no secret of the fact that I hoped the Colts would give Johnson a “serious” look. That was written before he was released, because we all saw that coming, and adding Andre “The Giant” in the wake of the team’s decision to not re-sign Reggie Wayne made a lot of sense.
That Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and Johnson agreed to a three-year, $21-million deal (according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson) makes this an even sweeter deal. He’s not going to kill the cap. The fear was that the Colts would overpay for the Houston Texans’ all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. The Colts didn’t.
I was sold on Johnson, who turns 34 in July, for many reasons.
We’ve watched him for years against the Colts and know how he can take over a game. The Colts won most of the time, but he made plays. Impact plays. At 6-3 and 230, his size is a problem for any cornerback. His speed and tremendous hands can produce the most difficult of grabs. He’s particularly effective on the short routes and isn’t shy about going over the middle.
No, I’m not worried about his numbers being down last year. He was unhappy, and I would be, too, after playing 12 years for a team that had yet to contend for a Super Bowl. Johnson admitted on a Wednesday conference call that he knew his Houston time was coming to an end even before last season started.
I texted longtime friend John McClain of the Houston Chronicle when the news broke last week that the Texans had agreed to let Johnson’s agent pursue a trade. Nobody was going to pick up that contract, with the receiver counting $16.1 million against the cap, so he was going to become a free agent. I asked McClain if Johnson still had game. McClain, a man whose opinion I respect and trust, someone who has covered Johnson his entire career, said Johnson could still be a solid No. 2 receiver.
That’s all the Colts need. The only No. 1 that matters is Johnson is joining the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense and quarterback Andrew Luck. And McClain, by the way, knew Luck was going to be an NFL star before the Colts selected the passer in 2012. He had followed his career from Luck’s Houston high school days and knows his family. I’ll never forget McClain saying to me in December of 2011, “You know you guys really don’t deserve Andrew Luck.” After watching Peyton Manning all these years, yeah, he was right. We are spoiled when it comes to Colts quarterbacks.
Johnson caught 1,012 passes for 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns without ever playing with an elite NFL quarterback. He’s going to love Luck.
The two-time All Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection will be a key piece to the offensive equation, but he doesn’t need to be the go-to guy every time the Colts need a play. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has emerged as a tremendous deep threat. He’s entering a contract year, so he’ll be even more motivated to remind his NFL employer that it will soon be time to get him paid. That means putting up bigger numbers.
Johnson will help Hilton do that. Defenses were doubling T.Y. more and more last year. And as we know from the Patriots games, if you take away Hilton, that can stall this offense. Not anymore.
Second-year wide receiver Donte Moncrief needs playing time to do more. He showed promise as a rookie. Those three guys fit well together. Throw in Canadian Football League import Duron Carter, who one NFL executive (not from Indy) said has the talent to be a No. 1 in this league (which could be debated, but it’s at least encouraging) and the Colts have solid options for Luck.
Tight ends Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle are all excellent in their roles. They should find more room to roam over the middle of the field with safeties concerning themselves with Hilton, Johnson, Moncrief and presumably Carter.
Again, that’s why Johnson was important. He will create opportunities not just for himself but for the other guys who can’t be covered as well. Defenses are going to have to decide who demands the coverage, and Luck will adjust to that and find the open guy. There should be a lot of guys open.
Add San Francisco 49ers all-time leading rusher Frank Gore to the backfield as well as offensive guard Todd Herremans to the O-line and the Colts should be able to find running room, too. Defenses worrying about that pass game can’t stack the box to stuff Gore, a power runner who plays with grit.
As McClain tweeted, Johnson is also a high-character guy. In researching stories on the receiver, I read how he’s always been understated. He didn’t say much when Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was recruiting for the University of Miami and making home visits.
Johnson isn’t about talking much, he’ll lead by example, and as McClain has said, has an excellent work ethic. He’s a true pro. That’s what the Colts needed most on offense with Wayne gone.
On a side not, yes, I’d still like to see Reg in Indy. Naive as it sounds, part of me wishes the Colts should bring Wayne back for that final year, even if there isn’t a spot for him. The odds of that happening are probably slim and none with slim leaving town, but hey, we can hold onto that dream for a little while anyway.
Dealing with the realities of today, the Colts should be as explosive as they have been at any time in Luck’s career. They will score a ton of points, move the chains, and win by default against a lot of outmanned opponents.
When it comes time to go up against the best in the playoffs, presuming Grigson can build some kind of respectable defense led by a relentless pass rush with Robert Mathis and Trent Cole coming off the edge, the Colts will be a tougher out come January.
Some will disagree, and that’s why sports can be so much fun because there’s so much more debate these days on social media, but I think the Colts’ push for a Super Bowl really took its most significant step by adding Johnson.
We’ll see how it plays out, but I’m sold on the guy. Have been for a long time.
If the Colts don’t get to the Super Bowl next season, it won’t be because of a lack of offense.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.