Should the Jets trade for Andre Johnson?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Let's look at the pros and cons.

It appears that this Andre Johnson story is not going away.  Dre clearly wants out of Houston (with the team naming Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter, who can blame him?).  As with any well-known player potentially on the market (whether old or not), debate within the Jets community rages as to whether or not the Jets should trade for or sign that player. In this article, I want to look into the pros and cons (reasons for vs. reasons against) of trading for Andre Johnson.

PRO: Andre Johnson, at last sight, is still an elite receiver in the NFL.

Simply put, even at age 33 and with 11 years of NFL football under his belt, Andre Johnson is still one of the very best receivers in the NFL.  Dre ranked 7th in the NFL in receiving with 1,407 yards last year. He also finished 7th in the league in yards per pass route run, and caught 62% of his targets.  Also remember, the Texans had the ghost of Matt Schaub (who was horrible) and some guy named Case Keenum throwing him the ball last year.  While the Jets certainly don't have a gem behind center, what they do have are strong armed quarterbacks who can push the ball to spots where Andre likes it, the deep and the intermediate middle. Andre is aging, and guys in the NFL can lose it in an instant when they are older and have spent many years in the league, but all the evidence we have now tells us that Dre is still one of the very best WRs in football.  Not sure about you guys, I like having guys that are among the best, so I'll mark this down as a "pro".

CON: The Jets will have to compensate the Texans

This much is obvious.  Andre Johnson not only can still play, at last sight at least, but he's also the face of the Texans franchise and the best player in the team's history.  I readily admit this is speculation, but I can't see Andre getting moved for anything less than a 3rd round pick.  Third round picks are valuable assets in the NFL, and we know how John Idzik is in his valuation of young, draft assets.  For a guy who's MO thus far has been to build a talent base through the draft, trading a healthy draft asset for a aging player seems counter-intuitive.  Are the Jets on the brink of a Super Bowl and will Andre Johnson push them over the top?  I would say likely not.  Therefore, it's fair to question whether the Jets should trade out a young asset that could be with the team for years to come versus a player who might have 2-3 years left at best.

PRO: The Jets still very much have a crying need at WR.

Yes, there is a lot of new season optimism floating around Jet Land.  If you look around, a lot of people are "fine" with what the Jets are running out there as pass catching weapons.  Some even "excited" with our receivers. There is certainly a basis for this.  Jets were able to sign Eric Decker in free agency, a guy who just put up 1300 yards last year and 1064 yards the year before.  The Jets have pumped draft resources into their pass catchers, drafting Jalen Saunders, Shaq Evans, and Jace Amaro (who a lot of people believed was the best TE in the draft).  Some continue to hold out hope that Jeff Cumberland and Stephen Hill are on the verge of a breakout and turning their athleticism into production.  And of course, we still have Mr. Reliable, Jeremy Kerley.  The Jets have a lot of different toys to play with.

Bump all that.

The Jets still fall well below the gold standard in terms of weapons.  Eric Decker was great as part of Denver's high octane passing attack that set records, but he had a lot of help there.  While I haven't polled everyone in the world, it would certainly appear as though it's consensus that Demaryius Thomas was the best wide receiver in Denver, and many would consider him one of the league's elite.  He also had a break out star Julius Thomas at TE, and the best slot receiver maybe in the history of the game as well.  Decker is not going to have the same luxury of all those great targets surrounding him.  He's going to face double teams far more frequently, and he's not going to have Peyton Manning throwing him the football.  It remains to be seen if Decker can continue his borderline elite play away from a dream situation in Denver.

Shaq Evans and Jalen Saunders could become players down the road, but asking 4th round rookies to step in and contribute immediately is asking for a complete rarity.  Rookie WRs already struggle to adjust as is to the NFL, and for mid rounders to make a huge impact, it almost never happens.  Speaking of rookies that struggle to make an impact, rookie tight ends have it even tougher than receivers, because they have to learn blocking schemes as well as pass routes.  Since 1999 (the past 15 years), only 8 rookie tight ends have broken 500 yards in a season.  Only 2 have broken 600 yards.  Only one, Jeremy Shockey, broke 700 yards and had a season where you could say he was big time with almost 900 yards.  So even if Amaro is as good as the best rookie tight ends of the past 15 years sans Shockey, you're looking at somewhere between 500-600 receiving yards.  That's good, but probably not what we're going to need him to be for success this year.

Hill is in prove-it mode. The man with 4.36 speed and a 6-4, 215 pound frame has rarely looked like it on the field, on the occasions he has been healthy.  In two years, Hill has 594 yards and 4 touchdowns, which is already terrible.  However, it becomes even more deflating to realize that a third of his yards and 75% of his touchdowns came in two of his 23 games, both home games against Buffalo.  Hill has played more games with less than 20 yards receiving than he has of games with more than 20 yards.  Out of 94 receivers that saw 25th percentile targets, Hill was 92nd in QB rating when thrown to, though shockingly this wasn't the worst on the team as Holmes was even worse at 93rd. Hill's yards per route run was 1.02, 83rd out of 94.  He has been, in a word, unproductive.  Kerley is a nice player, but he is what he is- a decent slot receiver who isn't going to break any games open.

Could all these guys develop and step in to be good to great players right now?  I suppose it's possible.  But everything working out for the best is a highly improbable scenario.  We're playing the roulette wheel and betting rows, not colors with these guys. This team has a desperate need for a sure fire guy like Andre Johnson.

CON: Johnson's contract is really expensive

As we speak, Andre currently has 3 years left on his deal.  His cap number in 2014 is 15.6 mil, which is cut down to 14.6 mil by his forfeiture of his 1 mil roster bonus, followed by seasons of 16 mil and 14.675 mil.  That's a hell of a lot of money for a 33 year old receiver.  Fortunately, the Jets would not be taking on that cap number.  Of his cap number in 2014, 4.6 mil is due to a prorated bonus, 1 mil is due to a roster bonus that has been already forfeited, and 10 mil is in base salary.  When you trade for a player in the NFL, all signing/prorated bonuses get charged to the team trading the player, so the 4.6 mil as well as 7.3 mil in future prorated bonus would be charged to the Texans.  The Jets cap hit would be Andre's base salaries, plus the roster bonuses.  From what I have read, the league would likely reinstate Johnson's roster bonus for this season if he's traded, so his cap charge for the Jets would be 11 million, followed by 11.5 million in 2015 and 12 million in 2016.  That's still a lot of money for an aging receiver.

PRO: Johnson can be easily cut if the Jets acquire him

The good thing in regards to Johnson's contract, and the Jets current situation, is that the Jets can take on his contract straight up without having to make any adjustments because of their ample amount of cap space.  To fit in Andre as is, a team must have the requisite 11 million in cap space open to take him.  The Jets have 20+ million.  Thus, the Jets have no need to restructure Andre's contract.  Any team that has less than the 11 or so million to take on Dre's contract would have to restructure, which likely would mean converting all but one million into a signing bonus and spreading the money out throughout the contract.  This adds guaranteed cash on the back end, raises his future year's cap hits, and leaves a team with dead money in case they have to cut Andre Johnson before the contract expires.  The Jets don't have to have that concern.  Base salary is not guaranteed in the NFL unless expressly stated in the contract.  Johnson's current base salary is non-guaranteed.  This means that if Andre falls apart in 2014 and the Jets want to cut him after the season, they can do it with NO dead money.

CON: Johnson is at an age where the decline could come very soon

Andre Johnson is a physical beast at 6-3, 230, and entered the league running in the 4.3s.  Throughout his career, he's always been the type of player who was the best athlete on the field.  However, power and speed start to wane as you move into your mid-30s.  Andre Johnson turned 33 today (happy born day Dre!).  He looked like he had a lot of pep, but that's probably going to start declining soon and may have already begun.  This Pro Football Focus article suggests that wide receivers generally start a gradual decline from age 28, and there is a SHARP decline at the age of 35.  Dre is still 2 years away from that general roadblock, but also consider the type of player he is.  He hasn't made his mark in the NFL with his superior route running.  He did it by being a monster who can run faster than everyone.  While I don't have data right now to support it, it at least seems logical that a guy like Andre may lose it quicker than guys who play until 35 and thrive off of their route running. You also have to factor in that while he hasn't missed any games in the past 2 seasons, he's played 154 physical games and has missed games in the somewhat recent past (2010 and 2011) for soft tissue injuries.  Andre may be on a "last hurrah" if the Jets bring him in, and there's a possibility Andre had his "last hurrah" in 2013.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, I would like to see the Jets bring in Andre Johnson.  I have long admired him as a player and seeing him suit up in Jets green would be awesome.  He gives the offense (which I think didn't improve nearly as much as others do) instant credibility.  Would I give up a 3rd round pick?  I think so.  I think a third rounder is enough of a value balance that I don't mind losing that asset for a player like Andre who I believe can still crank out 1 or 2 more elite seasons, and maybe another season of high quality starter.  I don't believe I would go any higher than a 3rd and maybe a young but overall not extremely important player like an Antonio Allen or something.  However, it's certainly buyer beware, as it is any time you buy on a 33 year old player.  The league is littered with guys who were great today, gone tomorrow at that age.  To me, however, the tipping point is the lack of dead money commitment to Johnson.  If you take a shot on Andre and he doesn't pan out, you can cut your losses without it continuing to affect the roster.  Even with a boatload of cap space, it's not prudent to spend those dollars on empty space.

What do you guys think?  Would you like to see Andre Johnson in a Jet uniform?  What would you pay to get him here?  Do you like that contract money he's receiving?  Would Dre even want to come to the Jets?  Are you sick of the Jets going after stars that are beyond their prime?  Leave your thoughts below.

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