KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer
Andre Johnson was released by the Houston Texans, and quarterback Ryan Mallett agreed to return to the team on Monday.
A 12-year veteran, Johnson, the longest-tenured Texan, was a first-round draft pick in 2003, joining the expansion team in its second season.
The 33-year-old Johnson had 85 catches for 936 yards last season, but the Texans were beginning to see DeAndre Hopkins as their top receiving threat.
“After exhausting all options of a possible trade, we informed Andre Johnson that he would be released (Monday),” general manager Rick Smith said. “No player in the history of this franchise has represented the team, city and community in a more professional way. Andre is a Hall of Fame caliber player and we appreciate his years of service and contributions to our team.”
Johnson is a seven-time Pro Bowler with seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and has 1,012 receptions with 13,597 yards receiving in his career.
He led the NFL in yards receiving in 2008 and 2009. His career high came in 2012 when he had 1,598 yards receiving and the Texans reached the playoffs for the second time.
“Andre carried himself as a true professional and did everything that we asked him to do,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “Andre will go down as one of the best receivers to every play this game. We are thankful for what he has done for our organization and wish him well on his future playing career.”
Johnson played on just four teams with winning records and went through two 2-14 seasons with the Texans. He also had more than his fair share of quarterback woes. It started with the struggles of David Carr, included Matt Schaub performing so poorly in 2013 that he was benched, and playing with four different signal callers last season alone.
But Johnson was also there for the best times of this young franchise, helping the Texans to back-to-back AFC South titles and trips to the playoffs in 2011 and 2012. He had 25 receptions for 358 yards in four career playoff games.
It looked like he might be gone last season after he wondered if Houston “was still the place for me” before skipping all of the team’s offseason work. He returned in time for training camp and as late as December he said he wanted to spend his entire career in Houston.
“I don’t want to play for nobody else … I don’t even think it would feel right,” he said then.
But after the Texans told him recently they didn’t see him as their top receiver anymore, he’d had enough and asked to be released or traded.
The move is a blow for longtime Texans fans who have always seen Johnson as the face of the franchise, even with the emergence of star defensive end J.J. Watt. Johnson was sitting courtside at a Houston Rockets game last week when he was introduced and received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd as Whitney Houston’s song “I Will Always Love You” played and he waved to the crowd.
Johnson is second among active players and 12th all-time in career yards receiving. His 64 career touchdown receptions are 10th among active players and his 80.5 yards receiving a game are fourth among active players.
He’s fifth with 51 career 100-yard receiving games and holds an NFL record with 21 career games with at least 10 receptions and 100 or more yards receiving.
Houston also re-signed two of its free agents, cornerback Kareem Jackson and tackle Derek Newton.
Mallett has agreed to terms on a two-year contract with the Texans, another person familiar with the contract told the AP. The deal is worth $7 million over two years, with $1.75 million guaranteed. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the contract.
Mallett joined Houston last year in a trade with New England. A third-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2011, he appeared in only four games for them as Tom Brady’s backup. But he started twice in three appearances for Houston before tearing a pectoral muscle and missing the rest of the season.
He’s projected as the 2015 starter for the Texans, who also have Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage under contract and have shown interest in free agent Brian Hoyer.
Jackson comes off a strong season. He was drafted by the Texans 20th overall in 2010 and has started 71 of 74 games. Last year, in 13 games, he was the team’s top coverage defensive back and had 57 tackles (48 solo), nine passes defensed and three interceptions, including a career-high two in a Week 16 win over Baltimore.
“We definitely did some good things last year and I’m definitely eager to continue to build on what we started last year,” Jackson said.
Newton has appeared in 60 games since being selected in the seventh round in 2011, including starting the last 46 games he’s played in at right tackle.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.
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