At the end of the 2015 regular season, the Indianapolis Colts released 35-year old receiver Andre Johnson after an unusually unproductive season from the seven-time Pro Bowler.
During his single season with the Colts, Johnson made 42 receptions for 503 yards and 4 touchdowns — numbers markedly lower than Johnson’s seasonal averages with the Houston Texans: 84 receptions for 1133 yards and 5.3 touchdowns.
After the Colts released Johnson, the veteran receiver was adamant he would play football in 2016: “I am playing, there’s no question about that,” Johnson told NFL Media. “I know I can still play this game … people read into stories too much. I’m not discouraged about what happened this past season, I’m just waiting for an opportunity.”
Johnson has now been a member of three teams of the AFC South. He played for the Texans from 2003 to 2014, the Colts in 2015, and will have played for the Titans by the end of next season.
Prior to Johnson’s signing, the Titans had also expressed interest in Roddy White since the wideout played eight seasons in Atlanta under Titans’ first-year offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie. However, White would not accept a minimum-salary offer while Johnson would, which is why he, not White, is now in Tennessee.
This newest Titans’ acquisition adds to a narrative that Jon Robinson and Mike Mularkey are scripting during their first years as general manger and head coach — the revitalization of a franchise that has won only five games during the past two seasons.
Other notable players that the Titans signed during free agency include running back DeMarco Murray, center Ben Jones, safety Rashad Johnson, receiver Rishard Matthews, quarterback Matt Cassel, linebacker Sean Spence, and cornerbacks Antwon Blake and Brice McCain.
What can Titans’ fans expect from Johnson, a 35-year old veteran, next season?
It is far-fetched to expect Johnson to lead the NFL in receiving yards, which he did in consecutive seasons (2008-09) while playing for the Houston Texans.
It may even be far-fetched to expect Johnson to earn a starting role. He will compete with Rishard Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Tajae Sharpe for the two flanking receiver positions. Kendall Wright will play at slot receiver.
It is not far-fetched, however, to expect Johnson to bring leadership, experience, and knowledge to a Titans’ receiving core that ranked among the worst in the league last season.
“To bring in someone like that who has played at the highest level, who has been an elite-type player in this league, I think will not only help myself but this entire team…” Marcus Mariota said. “He’s caught over 1,000 balls, he’s been to multiple Pro Bowls, he’s done some of the things that a lot of us young guys what to aspire for, and to see that, to bring him in, he sounds like the type of guy that’s going to kind of hopefully help us and guide us in that direction.”
“Andre is a great guy. I’m happy to have him on this team,” said Ben Jones, a former teammate of Johnson in Houston. “What he can bring to this locker room: he’s a guy who works really hard, and doesn’t say a lot, but when he’s on the field, he’s going to do what it takes to win.”
There are other certainties with Johnson’s arrival to Tennessee, aside from his experience.
He will wear the No. 81, a number he has worn during his entire career.
He is in shape. “I’ve been training everyday since March. I’ve been working my butt off this offseason,” Johnson told Titans’ reporters after the first day of training camp.
And he will no longer plague Tennessee on the gridiron. In 24 career games against the Two Tone Blue, Johnson has averaged 5.3 receptions for 64 yards and 0.46 touchdowns, per Pro Football Reference.
Welcome to Tennessee.