Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 7/11/12
Andre Johnson turned 31 on Wednesday. He was 29 when he ripped off Cortland Finnegan's helmet. He was 28 when he flattened those three Arizona Cardinals on that famous touchdown catch. He was 27 when he led the NFL in receiving yards for the first time, and he was 23 when he made his first Pro Bowl. It has been a long and dignified and dazzling career, and when you start talking like that you know the end isn't too far off. Thirty was not a great year for Johnson, and 29 could have been better too. He has played in just 22 of the Texans' past 34 games. His legs, those pistons, have begun breaking down. One hamstring, then the other. Then a knee. Football players get injured, and maybe that's all this is. But it is starting to look like something else. You can't play forever, you know. So on the occasion of Johnson's 31st birthday, I wonder how much time he, and the Texans, have left. It took a little longer than expected to get where they are, which means the Texans have a team good enough to win the Super Bowl and fragile enough to shatter like one of Matt Schaub's metatarsals. With Schaub, Johnson, Arian Foster and Owen Daniels, the Texans have a core of offensive skill players that once again should give them one of the NFL's best offenses. Combine that with a young defense full of playmakers (which ranked No. 2 in the NFL last year in total yards), and the Texans have one of the NFL's most talented overall rosters. But Schaub, who also turned 31 this summer, has played all 16 regular-season games just two out of his five seasons in Houston. Johnson has begun missing games, and as of now the Texans are almost totally without depth on the offensive line. We saw what the offense looks like without Schaub and Johnson last year, when in games against Cincinnati, Carolina and Indianapolis the Texans scored 20, 13 and 16 points and lost two of three. I realize this is not exactly an apple falling on my head. You take away any team's starting quarterback and its best offensive player and that team is going to stink really quickly. The point is, the Texans may not have much time left with this group. It could be a month, it could be two. It could be two seasons. But it isn't likely to be much more than that. Further, once the Schaub-Johnson era is over, the offense figures to enter full-on rebuilding mode. The team has sold out for this era. The past few years, the Texans have used most of their high draft picks and free-agent dollars on defense, which was the only reasonable thing to do. Without Johnathan Joseph, Brooks Reed, J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin, the team would have no chance of winning its division, much less its conference. But the consequence is that there is no obvious quarterback of the future on the Texans roster, and there is no receiver on the team who inhabits the same football galaxy as Johnson. The Texans may address those issues in the coming year or two, but as we sit here, on Andre Johnson's 31st birthday, it seems that so far as the Texans' Super Bowl hopes are concerned, it is now or not for a long time.
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