Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When it comes to football, Andre Johnson is closer to the end than the beginning.
It's a realization that both the Houston Texans and the 33-year-old Johnson probably understand.
It's also the reason the Texans aren't about to bend over backward and guarantee any part of Johnson's remaining, big-money contract, which runs through the 2016 season and includes base salaries of $10 million (2014), $10.5 million (2015) and $11 million (2016).
It's a thin tightrope to walk for Houston because Johnson is one of the best receivers in NFL history and perhaps the greatest player in franchise history. Since arriving in south Texas as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2003 draft, the Miami native has piled up 913 receptions, seven Pro Bowl nods, four All-Pro berths and four team MVP awards.
Like a lot of players over the years Johnson tried to push the money issue early in the offseason and garner more guaranteed dollars by bypassing the Texans' early OTAs.
Things seemed to get at least a little less contentious, however, after the star receiver met with new coach Bill O'Brien and made plans to return if the franchise agreed to ante up the $1 million workout bonus he was scheduled to receive by participating in the offseason program.
Instead the Texans have played hardball and refused to give Johnson the check despite his offer to ramp up his workouts with the team in order to make up for the missed time.
That's the definition of penny wise and dollar foolish when you consider that Houston does indeed want Johnson in the fold for 2014.
The rift over the workout bonus has fueled Johnson's desire to look elsewhere and he and his camp are now working out and "not thinking about the Texans," according to NFL.com.
It also has Johnson focusing on his football mortality and coming to the conclusion that the Texans are in the middle of a rebuilding process, something he may not want to take part in as this stage of his career. Potential contenders like New England and Carolina seem like much better fits for the veteran, at least on paper.
"I don't know. I can't answer that question," Johnson said last week when asked if he would be playing for Houston in Week 1. "Hopefully. We'll see what happens. Training camp's three weeks away, so we'll see what happens."
It's hard to understand the Texans and their thought process here.
To be fair to Houston, understand Johnson has gotten over $18 million in signing bonuses already and didn't abide by the terms of his deal. Acquiescing to that would be a very bad precedent to set from a business standpoint. Meanwhile if the Texans were to trade him, the team would be on the hook for nearly $12 million in dead money.
At the end of the day Houston also holds the hammer for this season. Johnson can be fined $30,000 a day for missing training camp and if he stays home for the regular season, he will sneezing at $588,235 a week.
Still, Johnson isn't Joe Schmo. His on-field resume speaks for itself and he has always been a team guy, restructuring his contract three different times in order to help Houston with other salary-cap matters. The leverage matters but common sense also says having an unhappy employee show up while resenting everything around him is never a healthy environment.
In anyone has built up equity with Texans owner Bob NcNair and general manager Rick Smith over the years, it's been Johnson. That said, O'Brien has no history with the receiver and arrived in Houston facing the rebuild so he likely sees the star as a descending player who will be a financial albatross in 2016 when he turns 35.
From that purely financial standpoint, the Texans' should be formulating their exit plan in regards to Johnson, but sports isn't like other businesses.
When a transcendent player helps build your brand, a franchise will often bite the bullet, swallow hard and cut checks for past performance rather than future returns. It's the nature of the industry.
Johnson is the Derek Jeter of the Texans, but he's being treated like he's the Alvaro Espinoza, and that's just bad business.