3 years at the University of Miami 34 games played 92 receptions 1,831 yards 20 touchdowns 3rd overall pick in the NFL draft 12 NFL seasons 169 games (all starts) 1,012 receptions 13,597 yards 64 touchdowns 7 Pro Bowls 2 First-Team All-Pro selections 2 seasons leading league in receptions 2 seasons leading league in receiving yards Free agent in 2015
That is an amazing resume for a player that was on the open market this offseason. A future Hall of Fame wide receiver, and Miami native, looking for a team to sign him for a 13th NFL season. A Miami Dolphins team in need of a veteran wide receiver to bolster a completely reworked position group.
The equation seems to point to Miami being interested in Andre Johnson, and Andre Johnson, reportedly, being interested in Miami. That is not exactly how it all worked, however. "I always had a dream of playing at home," Johnson the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson this week. "I was a huge Dolphins fan. But they never called."
Did the Dolphins miss something? How, or why, would they not pick up the phone and call Johnson?
Money was probably a big part of it. Timing played a role. And perception, real or imagined, may have been another part.
The Dolphins blew up their wide receiver corps this offseason, trading Mike Wallace to the Minnesota Vikings and releasing Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson. Among the presumed starters at the position this year, the longest tenured member of the team is second-year wide out Jarvis Landry. In an effort to give some weapons back to quarterback Ryan Tannehill and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Miami traded for Kenny Stills from the New Orleans Saints, signed free agent Greg Jennings, and drafted DeVante Parker. The Dolphins' receiver group appears, on paper at least, to be a strong grouping. Would it have been better with Johnson, instead of Jennings? Maybe. We do know, it would have been more expensive.
Johnson signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts. Jennings' deal with Miami was a two-year contract worth $8 million. Jennings will cost the Dolphins $2.5 million against the salary cap this year, while Johnson will be a $7.5 million hit on the Colts' salary space. The Dolphins currently have around $11 million in total salary cap space, which means they could have fit the $5 million difference between the two wide outs this season, but it would have made things a lot tighter fiscally for the South Florida franchise.
Johnson signed his contract with the Colts on March 11, just two days after being released. At that time, the Dolphins still were working the Wallace and Stills trades, as well as tying a lot of money into their own big free agent signing of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He and Johnson signed their contracts on the same day, meaning Miami was busy during Johnson's brief free agent availability trying to re-work the salary cap to fit a 6-year, $114 million contract. Timing wise, it just may have never worked in Miami's favor to be able to get Johnson under the cap while also trying to add Suh's contract. (Note to remember here, Miami has picked up salary cap space since the Suh signing with the release of players like Philip Wheeler, who was a post-June 1 designated cut, so Miami was tight against the cap for a little while.)
Finally, when Johnson was released by the Houston Texans, the media discussion was about how he was unhappy with his role in the offense last season, and how Houston had told him he would again be the veteran presence in a receiving group focused on the younger players. That sounds a lot like how Miami will use Jennings this year, so the Dolphins may have just realized the role was not right for Johnson. It could also be a matter of the "experts" discussing Johnson wanting to play for a team considered a "Super Bowl contender" and Miami not fitting that definition.
Miami probably did their due deligence and may have made contact with Johnson's representatvies to see what it would take to sign him. They could do that without calling to express interest. While there is some romanticism in the idea of Johnson wanting to play in front of his hometown, it may not have come at a price that would make Miami happy, or in a role that would keep Johnson happy.
At the end of the day, Johnson is in Indianapolis and Miami picked up their veteran mentor in Jennings. Was it the right choice? Even if Johnson manages to put together an All-Pro season this year, is that validation that he would have been a better choice than Jennings? He will have Andrew Luck throwing him the ball, and will likely be a bigger part of the Colts' offense than would have been his role in Miami. The Dolphins will likely look to Landry, Parker, and Stills more than Jennings as the year progresses. Would it have been the same if Johnson were the veteran, instead of Jennings?
All we know is, no one from the Dolphins spoke to Johnson in the two days in which he was a free agent. Instead, Miami was signing Suh and beginning the demolition of the wide receiver group. Maybe they did speak to his agent. Maybe they did not. Maybe they had a discussion about the possibility, but never epxressed actual interest. Maybe they simply did not have an oppotunity to meet with him before he agreed to the deal with the Colts.
Miami seems happy with the Landry, Jennings, Stills, and Parker top group. The Colts are happy with Johnson, and he is happy to be there. Everything seems to have worked out exactly the right way.