Self-representation backfires on Johnson

HOUSTON – An adage in the legal profession is that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.

Sadly, Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson(notes) is learning the NFL version of that saying the hard way. Even after he recently hired agent Kennard McGuire to represent him, the lesson will likely cost him around $20 million over the course of his career.

Johnson warms up during minicamp last month.
(Dave Einsel/AP Photo)

Until hiring McGuire, Johnson essentially represented himself, using uncle Andre Melton as an advisor. The result of that decision has been a costly mistake for a player who is perfect in so many other ways. Aside from being a great player, Johnson is extremely classy and is roundly praised as a helpful and generous teammate.

Those would be wonderful points to make in a contract negotiation … if Johnson didn’t have five years left on his current deal. He could even use those points to counter the negativity of a holdout if Johnson was playing serious hardball with the Texans by not showing up for offseason work at all. However, Johnson has been far from disruptive. Instead, he missed three days of workouts this offseason, showed up to tell management he wasn’t happy and then went back to work with his teammates.

He did that even after Melton hinted to the media that Johnson was going to play rough with the Texans.

“My uncle may have said some things about what he thought I should do, but that didn’t come from me,” said Johnson, who led the league with 1,569 receiving yards last season.

Johnson’s body language demonstrated that he was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of holding out. The idea goes against his very nature. But Johnson, 28, is also frustrated with his contract, a deal which likely will cover the rest of his most productive seasons. By the time it expires after the 2014 season, Johnson will likely be playing out the string of his career if he’s even able to do that.

“When I missed the first days [of offseason work], everybody has their own opinion like, ‘He’s greedy and this and that.’ They don’t know the whole story, they haven’t been here, so it’s something you just have to understand,” said Johnson, the third overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft. “The crazy thing about it – and this is why I say people don’t know what was going on – when I signed the contract [extension in 2007], all you heard is, ‘He’s a great guy, he’s a team player, he restructured his deal to bring other people in.’

“But now, when I ask for a restructured contract, ‘He’s greedy, he’s a diva, he’s this.’ Everybody flips on me.”

For the Texans, this is clearly an uncomfortable subject. They have a great player who is dissatisfied. Criticizing Johnson in any way would come off as bad PR.

“I want to make something clear, this is not me against Andre Johnson,” Houston general manager Rick Smith said. “Andre is a great player and person in every way.”

But …

“We didn’t give Andre a new contract [in 2007] to create cap space so we could sign free agents. We did it because he wanted more money,” Smith said.

OK, the problem is that Johnson didn’t really get a lot more than if he had played out the old deal – certainly not enough to make up for the risk of playing out his first contract.

Here’s the breakdown: As a rookie, Johnson signed a six-year, $39 million deal, which was pretty much in line with the market at the time. Then again, most rookie contracts are essentially slotted deals and the Texans were aggressive about giving Johnson a deal to get him signed on time for camp.

Where things went wrong was after the first four years of that deal in the 2007 offseason. By that time, according to NFL Players Association figures, Johnson had earned $21.71 million and had two years left on his rookie deal. He would have made $8.35 million in 2007 and again in 2008 for a total of $38.41 million over the first six years of his contract.

That also would have made Johnson a free agent or franchise player in the 2009 offseason. By then, fellow wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald(notes) (four years, $40 million) and Roy Williams (six years, $54 million) had already signed lucrative extensions.

But instead of playing out the final two years and getting leverage that comes with being a free agent or franchise player, Johnson signed a new deal in March 2007, adding six years to his original contract.

The result was basically an eight-year deal worth $60 million. If all goes well, Johnson, who is the only other receiver under 30 who ranks with Fitzgerald, will earn a total of $81.71 million over 12 years, which is basically his whole career.

Now, there’s nothing terribly wrong with that sum, but here’s the problem: Based on what Fitzgerald and Williams signed for, it’s not absurd to believe that Johnson easily could have made more than $10 million per year if he had waited. A six-year, $66 million contract, including $32 million or so guaranteed, could easily have been had.

“Andre Johnson is the one guy who could have [gotten more per year] than Larry Fitzgerald at that point,” a prominent agent said, referring to what could have happened if Johnson had waited. “The funny part is we actually had his contract used against us in one negotiation. The team said, ‘Your guy isn’t as good as Andre Johnson and look at his contract.’ ”

The bottom line is this, if Johnson had been patient, he could have hauled in more than $104 million over the same 12 years where he stands to make $81.71 million. And that’s if he stays healthy all the way through. Under the more patient scenario, nearly $70 million of that would have been guaranteed.

Some people might argue that Johnson needed to take the new deal for more security. After all, the Texans gave him $16 million in March 2007 and he has made more than $23 million total over the past three years.

OK, but Johnson was going to get at least $8.35 million in 2007 no matter and he could have easily purchased an insurance policy to cover the other $15 million he made with that extension.

And don’t expect McGuire, a talented and experienced agent, to have much luck getting a lot out of the Texans unless Johnson is willing to really play tough and hold out. Although McGuire is friendly with Smith, the Texans likely won’t do much more than add some incentives to the contract.

In other words, it would have paid for Johnson to wait.

If only he had someone who could have explained that to him.


Agent Neil Schwartz made an interesting suggestion about how to deal with veteran players who sign long-term contracts and then “out-perform” the deals, which is basically the situation Johnson is in with the Texans. Given that NFL teams have the power to cut players at any time in a contract and not pay any unguaranteed money in the deal, Schwartz believes that players should be allowed the right to opt out of a contract once in their career. “It couldn’t be on a rookie contract and you couldn’t do it until the final year or two of a long-term contract, but it would allow those players who deserve more money a chance to get paid.” Schwartz has a point in that fans and even teams are consistently concerned with paying players who deserve it. If this idea were coupled with greater restrictions on rookie salaries, this might be a plausible idea to shift money to more deserving veterans.

Kyle Shanahan
(Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has taken some grief from people for hiring his son Kyle, 30, to be offensive coordinator after a two-year stint in that job with the Texans. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) said that criticism is unfounded and heaped great praise on the younger Shanahan. “For as young as he is, to be as knowledgeable as he is about defensive coverages and to be able to articulate it to players and install an offense for a game week, you don’t find that out of someone who is [30] years old very often,” Schaub said. “The fact that he can relate to players in this league, I think it makes it that much easier. At first it was tough, but as we got going, as he proved from week to week that he had the ability to call plays at the right time and make things happen for us, that trust level for us as an offense just skyrocketed. Those two years here it says a lot about his future because I think it’s very bright for him.”

Amid all the debate over the NFL’s decision to play Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey, commissioner Roger Goodell made one very strong comment about the state of negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement during the recent owners meeting. Goodell sounded almost defiant when he said, “We will have a new agreement and it will be collectively bargained.” After all the rhetoric being thrown around about lockouts and Supreme Court decisions, this was one of the most optimistic things to be heard from either side in months.

Friends of former Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks running back LenDale White(notes) say that White is doing a lot of complaining these days in the aftermath of his reported pending suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. “He’s not taking any responsibility for anything,” said one person who has known White since college. “He’s still complaining about how he didn’t get a chance in Tennessee.” Wow, that’s living in serious denial. Sure, it would be nice to get more opportunity, but when you’re competing with Chris Johnson, what can you say?

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jun 3, 2010