Andre Johnson told Bill O'Brien 'trade or release me' after fateful conversation

A single conversation proved the tipping point for longtime Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson. Coach Bill O'Brien told the longest-tenured Texan his role would be reduced. That's when Johnson knew he and Houston had a problem.

The revelation of the conversation comes from a Zak Keefer feature in the Indianapolis Star and disputes previous reports about the parting-of-ways interplay between the Texans and Johnson.

Writes Keefer:
Andre Johnson couldn't believe what he heard next. O'Brien told him he'd only start certain games next season. That he'd only catch around 40 passes — less than half his career average. Johnson's role, apparently, was shrinking.

The receiver shook his head. Then he laughed. It's all he could do.

"You should trade me or release me," Johnson told O'Brien. "Because if that's going to be how it is, you're going to have a player who's miserable."

The Texans granted Johnson's request on March 9, releasing the face of the franchise from the years B.W. (Before Watt). The interchange slightly jibes with the sequence of events described by Johnson's agent in the immediate aftermath of the conversation.

“Andre did not, in the last couple of days, go in and ask for a trade,” Kennard McGuire told SportsRadio 610 in March. “Certain things were expressed to [Andre] in which he didn’t agree with. And at that point in time permission was thusly granted to seek an opportunity elsewhere. That was not something that we asked for. That was something that was presented to us."

No matter the semantics, Johnson expressed discontent with how O'Brien handled the conversation, feeling his coach either sidestepped a tougher talk or decided on the reduced role rashly.

"I think they wanted to go in a different direction and just didn't know how to tell me," Johnson told Keefer. "Deciding who was going to start six months before the season? I've never heard of that in my life. And I caught 85 balls last year. It didn't add up. Don't tell me what my role is going to be when we haven't even started workouts."

But the story, it seems, has a happy ending. Upon signing with the Colts, it appeared Johnson appreciated the new coach-player dynamic.

Johnson compiled more than 13,500 yards in his 12 seasons as a Texan, twice earning first-team All-Pro honors. The 2015-16 season with the Colts will be his first without the bull's head on his helmet since his days at the University of Miami, where Colts coach Chuck Pagano was on staff.

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