Andre Johnson is set to make a third stop on his AFC South tour, as he is expected to sign a two-year deal with the youthful Tennessee Titans. The veteran receiver, who could one day be headed for induction in Canton, is coming off a lackluster season in Indianapolis after spending the first 12 years of his career as a star with the Houston Texans.
What can the Titans realistically expect to get out of the 35-year-old Johnson? It’s murky, but it takes some deep searching and logic-stretching to come up with an argument that he will make a large impact. Furthermore, issuing a two-year contract is, well, puzzling to say the least. Tennessee head coach Mike Mularkey is on-board, however, going on the radio recently and figuring out a way to argue that Johnson will be good.
“When you’re looking at these guys, you’re looking at “what did you do lately?’ And last year, in Indy – he wasn’t a full-time starter – he had (41) catches, (24) of them were for 10 yards or more,” Mularkey said.
“That’s pretty significant. That’s pretty good numbers. And still productive. Still looks like he can play.”
The argument sounds good, but it’s also a huge stretch. While it’s technically true that Johnson was not “a full-time starter,” in Indianapolis, Johnson did start 14 of 16 games and played in more than 67 percent of their snaps. So it’s not like he was a deep bench player.
Also, Johnson needed to be targeted 77 times to make those 41 catches. The resulting 53.2 percent catch percentage trailed pretty much everybody on the roster except T.Y. Hilton, who is a small speedster who draws a lot of high-difficulty passes (16.4 yards per catch). This also is not the first sign of decline for Johnson, who has seen his catches, yards and catch percentage decrease each season since 2012.
Some of that could be due to a decreased role in Houston, followed by joining a pretty deep group of receivers in Indy. Johnson won’t have that excuse with Tennessee, which has handed young quarterback Marcus Mariota a green unit which includes tight end Delanie Walker (94 receptions, 1,088 yards) and not much else.
After Walker, nobody caught more than 36 passes last season, and nobody scored more than four touchdowns through the air. The pass-catching group includes mediocre veteran Harry Douglas, youngish roster-fillers like Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, promising second-year player Dorial Green-Beckham, and Tajae Sharpe, a rookie from Massachusetts.
So the Titans definitely have a need production-wise at the position, and they also have a need leadership-wise, especially when it comes to pushing a player like Green-Beckham, who has had issues mastering the playbook as well as maintaining motivation to stay in shape.
But while Johnson might yet have something to offer the Titans, it would be foolhardy to expect too much from a 35-year-old veteran who is several years removed from his best days.
The coach-on-the-field signing is always an idea that sounds good, but it’s always better in theory than in practice, and it loses a lot of effectiveness if that player can no longer play.