It was bad enough for the Houston Texans when they were dealing with Brian Cushing, the ramifications of what he did or did not take, and the resulting four-game suspension that will kick off Cushing's 2010 season. Now, receiver Andre Johnson(notes), the team's best player, is making noise about his contract. He's not happy about an eight-year, $60 million contract extension that he signed in March of 2007 that will pay him a base salary of $5.8 million this season. That base jumps to $6.8 million in 2011 and $7.3 million in 2012, narrows off to $7 million in 2013, and goes back up to $7.3 million in 2014. Add in $15 million in guaranteed money, and it sounds like a lot of scratch ... until you compare Johnson's contract with other recent receiver deals.
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald(notes) signed a new deal in March of 2008, a four-year, $40 million contract that gave him $30 million guaranteed and $12.1 million in option and roster bonuses alone in 2009. Fitzgerald's base is $6.3 million in 2010 -- just half a million over Johnson's -- but it's the way in which the contract is structured that gives the advantage to Fitzgerald. Three-quarters of Fitzgerald's contract is guaranteed, while Johnson's guaranteed money comprises just one-fourth of his total deal. When Roy Williams signed a six-year, $54 million deal with the Cowboys upon his trade from the Lions in October 2008, he got more than $26 million guaranteed, including a $10 million option bonus in the second year. He has a couple of years in which the deal is voidable -- 2013 and 2014 have base salaries of over $8 million -- but Williams will earn far more than his on-field production has been worth.
And that's where Johnson is in the right. As great as Fitzgerald has been, there's little doubt that Johnson has been the NFL's most productive receiver over the last few years. Last season, Johnson was targeted 172 times to Fitzgerald's 153 and Williams' 86. As Houston's offense has gone extremely pass-heavy, Johnson has been the focus of every defense playing the Texans, and he's still been able to put up ridiculous numbers -- his 1,569 receiving yards led the league by more than 200 yards over New England's Wes Welker(notes). No receiver had more plays of 20 yards or more last season than Johnson's 22. In 2008, Johnson led the league in catches (115) and receiving yards (1,575). And Houston's overall game plan isn't going to change anytime soon, which means that Johnson will continue to be the pointman in that offense.
Johnson is currently absent from the Texans' OTAs, and General Manager Rick Smith has said that the team has a strict policy of refusing to negotiate with players who aren't present. Johnson negotiated that extension with the help of Andre Melton, his uncle and agent, and Melton was quoted as saying last season that he had an "exit strategy" for Johnson if the Texans didn't pony up. Johnson went on the record and disagreed with that notion, but he's got a point when it comes to his compensation. Perhaps step one is to hire a more experienced advisor to help him through the process.