HOUSTON - David Johnson was the key element for the Houston Texans in the DeAndre Hopkins trade of 2020. Now, he'll remain at NRG Drive for at least one more season.
The Texans and Johnson agreed to terms on a restructured deal for the 2021 season. Johnson will now play on a one-year deal worth up to $6 million with $4.25 million guaranteed.
Is this move one the fans will like? Losing an All-Pro like Hopkins is a tough pill to swallow. So is adding a 29-year-old who statically was coming off his worst season following being benched by the Arizona Cardinals.
New general manager Nick Caserio knew that Johnson's currently cap hit at $7.95 million was too high. If the Texans were to cut him, the team would have saved $6.412 million in the salary cap with only taking a $2.1 million hit in dead money.
But alas, that would open the door to another problem. Who would be RB1 next season?
The Texans currently project to have roughly $16.2 million in the salary cap entering free agency, per Over the Cap. Names like Green Bay's Aaron Jones, Arizona's Kenyan Drake and Pittsburgh's James Conner will likely garner contracts likely worth $8-$10 million.
Houston's pressing needs defensively won't allow them to spend top dollar on a runner. Even so, who's to say their production will warrant the contract?
Johnson finished the 2020 campaign with 691 rushing yards and six touchdowns to go with 33 receptions for 314 yards and two more scores. Houston's rushing attack as a whole was limited, finishing 31st in the league and only topping the Steelers.
The season's end was a success for Johnson. In Week 16, he posted a season-high 128 rushing yards on 12 carries and scored two touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals. He followed that up with 84 yards and a score against the Tennessee Titans in Week 17.
Caserio comes from a franchise that has at times thrived on pounding the ball. The same goes for Texans new head coach David Culley, who saw the Baltimore Ravens lead the NFL in rushing his two seasons there.
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That however was in large part due to the success of dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson. The verdict is still out on if Deshaun Watson will be with the team when Week 1 begins.
Johnson's late burst likely played a role in him returning for 2021. Now, Houston must look to the draft for former secondary runner Duke Johnson's replacement. Names like UCLA's Demetric Felton or Kansas' Pooka Williams come to mind a third-down pass-catchers.
It's too soon to say if Houston is better off without Johnson. For now, we consider this as a "better than nothing" solution.
The hope is Johnson's 2020 ending is the outlook to his 2021 beginning. If it isn't, this could only sour the Hopkins' deal more over time.
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