Bob McNair on Andre Johnson: Athletes never want to acknowledge losing a step

PHOENIX -- Houston Texans owner Bob McNair wasn't surprised Andre Johnson bristled at the idea of a reduced role next season. It's just human nature, McNair told me this week at the league's owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore.

"Every athlete I think would like to play forever," McNair said when I asked if he was surprised to hear Johnson felt even before last season that he would be gone from the Texans after 2014. "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."

Until now, there hasn't really been a public acknowledgment by the organization of the belief that Johnson had lost a step. When asked about Johnson several times since, Texans coach Bill O'Brien has repeated the refrain of how much respect he has for Johnson.

Johnson was granted permission to seek a trade earlier this month after being told the Texans planned to reduce his role significantly this season. They simply no longer believed he was a starter. When no trade options materialized, Johnson requested a release and was granted it. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent.

Though I didn't quite phrase the question this way, McNair disagreed with any characterization that the Texans did anything other than honor Johnson's wishes this offseason.

"No, he had the opportunity to stay, but his role was changing," McNair said. "As a player gets older, that’s what happens. He wasn’t interested in the role that he thought was available and he wanted to pursue a role with another team so we honored his request."

Though the end was ugly for the Texans and Johnson, he's still the most iconic offensive player the franchise has ever had.

"I think when he’s ready to retire, we would love to honor him and give him an adequate ceremony recognizing what he’s done," McNair said. "And we’ll look forward to that."