Texans owner Bob McNair told ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli this week that he wasn't surprised at Johnson's reaction because it's human nature for athletes to go into denial in the twilight of their careers.
"Every athlete I think would like to play forever," McNair said. "They never want to acknowledge that they've lost a step or they can't quite do what they did before. Just look at history. Look at all the players. It just happens time and time again.
"We don't like to acknowledge that we're getting older. None of us do. That's just human nature, and I don't think that's going to change. ... They're used to being a star and they'd like to continue being a star. I don't blame 'em, I understand that."
As interesting as McNair's comments might be, it's surprising that he would publicly intimate that Johnson has lost a step -- even if it's true.
Was Johnson's decline in production purely the onset of physical attrition? Or was it just as much about a changing role in a new offense with a four-pack of scattershot quarterbacks?
That version of Johnson didn't seem far off from the one that averaged All-Pro-caliber numbers of 111 receptions and 1,503 yards the two years prior.
With a Smith-sized chip on his shoulder, Johnson isn't going to accept McNair's innocuous appraisal at face value. He will internalize the sentiment that he's washed up and use that as fuel for a bounce-back season, just as Smith did in 2014.
"Watched him on tape, everybody watched him on tape when we knew there was maybe a chance he'd come available," coach Chuck Pagano said at the NFL Annual Meeting this week. "Saw a dominant guy, we know what he went through last season, the circumstances he went through, but he's a force to be reckoned with. You need to do everything you can to make sure he doesn't wreck the game."
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