PHOENIX -- The carousel of available football players doesn't often include those of Hall of Fame caliber. So Colts coach Chuck Pagano didn't anticipate he'd have the opportunity to reunite with Andre Johnson in the NFL.
"Yeah, we were surprised, but anything can happen in the National Football League," said Pagano, who recruited Johnson to the University of Miami more than a decade and a half ago. "I just feel fortunate that we were able to get him."
I caught up with Pagano at the Arizona Biltmore, the site of this year's owners meetings, in which owners, head coaches and general managers gather to discuss league issues.
The departure of a franchise icon wasn't specific to the Texans. The Colts also released Reggie Wayne this offseason, Johnson's friend and college teammate. Wayne had spent the entirety of his 14-year career with the Colts since being drafted in 2001.
Releasing Wayne left a hole in the Colts locker room, especially with their young talented receivers like fourth-year player TY Hilton. It's a role Pagano hopes Johnson can fill.
"I don't know if you can ever replace 87, matter of fact I know you can't replace guys like that, so you try to find somebody that can become like that guy," Pagano said. "That mentor, that leader in that room, that brings that veteran presence, veteran leadership into that room to help the young guys. TY (Hilton) naturally going into his fourth year is going to have to assume some of that stuff. He's got to grow into that role. Obviously having a guy like Andre that's played 12 years is going to be a huge help as far as that's concerned."
When Johnson announced his decision to become an Indianapolis Colt, become part of the Texans' biggest rival, he did so with a photograph of him with Pagano.
"It's extremely exciting," Pagano said. "I mean, No. 1, we're getting a really good football player obviously. Having the relationship that I have with him, going all the way back to high school, recruiting him out of Miami High, knowing his family, knowing the type of man he is, the type of character he has, all that stuff comes into play. I think it's cool. It's really cool for us to be back together again. Reunited."