Calvin Johnson is one of the most talented wide receivers to ever play in the NFL. Losing a guy who had six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons is bound to set the Detroit Lions’ offense back, but could it make them better in the long run?
While praising Johnson in a recent interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio, Matthew Stafford spoke about the new receivers the Lions have added and how it might make life on opponents more difficult since they will be spreading the ball around more.
“I think we’re going to do it a little bit differently than we have in the past,” Stafford said, as transcribed by Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk. “Obviously we used to feature Calvin and everybody kinda got there’s after that. It’s gonna, I think, be tougher for defenses in a certain way that they don’t know who we’re going to. There’s no guy to key in on. We’re probably just going to spread the ball around a bunch, a bunch of guys are gonna get a ton of catches and we’re gonna be alright.”
Stafford is just trying to be optimistic. What else can he really say? We all know he’d rather be throwing to Stafford than Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Jeremy Kerley (who seems pretty confident) and Andre Caldwell, but he can’t say before the season that he expects his offense to be worse off.
When Jim Bob Cooter was promoted to offensive coordinator last season, the Lions started showing flashes of life. They’re hoping to build on that this year by utilizing all of their targets, even if it means having lost one of the best in NFL history.
When a player who had 88 catches for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns the previous season decides to retire the way Calvin Johnson did, it’s an easy inclination to continue wondering whether that player will reconsider his decision. Matthew Stafford does not think Megatron will.
Stafford was interviewed on WJR-AM and talked about his longtime teammate’s decision to walk away from the game.
“For me, I take him very seriously at his word,” Stafford said. “I’m sure he’s going to miss football. It was a big part of his life. But at the same time, I think he’s happy with his decision and he’s at peace with it. I know he’ll still pull for us, but in my mind, I don’t see (a return) happening.”
Stafford also said that after playing together with Johnson for seven seasons, he had a feeling last season might be their last time together.
“I had some inklings, and some conversations with him, and I know him well enough to know the way he was acting, the way he was talking, there was a chance it might be his last year,” Stafford said.
The Lions must have realized Johnson was serious too, because they signed former Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones to a five-year, $40 million deal in March. In addition to Jones, they still have Golden Tate, who had 813 yards and six touchdowns last season. While they’ll definitely be missing Calvin Johnson — few receivers are as big of a game-changer as he is — they still have some other options.
And what’s interesting is that Stafford says he always thought Johnson was serious about retirement, while another Lions player thought Megatron was joking.
Calvin Johnson didn’t just shock football fans when he decided to retire at the age of 30. At least one of his teammates thought there was no way it would happen.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Corey Fuller told Kyle Meinke of MLive.com this week that he assumed Johnson was joking when the six-time Pro Bowler mentioned that he was considering retirement.
“Every time he mentioned it to me, I kind of took it as a joke,” Fuller said. “Like, ‘Yeah, whatever. No you’re not.’ It wasn’t until close to the end of the season, when he said it — he said it like two or three times — like, ‘Are you for real?’
“Then after the season, when it came out, it was for real.”
Fuller, who refers to himself as Johnson’s “annoying younger brother,” added that he still hasn’t been able to completely process Megatron’s decision. The former Virginia Tech star could see more targets in Johnson’s absence next season.
While Fuller may have been shocked, a different Lions player knew Johnson was serious the entire time. Perhaps Fuller, like many fans in Detroit, simply didn’t want to believe it.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has decided to retire.
The team said in a statement Tuesday morning that Johnson has filed retirement papers with the NFL in advance of the new league year, which begins on Wednesday. Johnson later released a statement of his own, which you can read in its entirety below:
“Let me begin by apologizing for making this announcement via a statement and not in person. While I truly respect the significance of this, those who know me best will understand and not be surprised that I choose not to have a press conference for this announcement.
“After much prayer, thought and discussion with loved ones, I have made the difficult decision to retire from the Lions and pro football. I have played my last game of football.
“Let me assure you that this was not an easy or hasty decision. As I stated, I, along with those closest to me, have put a lot of time, deliberation and prayer into this decision and I truly am at peace with it.
“I also want you to know that I have the utmost respect and admiration for the game of football. It has provided so much for me and my family and I will be forever grateful to the game.
“With the reality of my decision, I realize there are a lot of people I would like to thank. I must start with my family – thank you for all your love and support.
“I also want to especially thank Mrs. Ford and the Ford Family for all their support over the years. They are tremendous owners and I loved playing for them. I would also like to recognize Mr. Ford, who I was honored to know and play for before he passed away.
“While it would be hard to name them all, I would also like to thank all of my teammates past and present.
“I also want to thank all of my coaches who I played for, in particular Coach Caldwell for his support, wisdom and guidance over the past two seasons. I loved playing for Coach Caldwell.
“There are so many other people I would like to recognize and thank for what they have done for me throughout my career, but rather than risk forgetting someone, I will simply say “thanks” to everyone.
“And finally, to the fans of Detroit and Michigan. I so appreciated your passionate support over the years and truly enjoyed playing for you. I loved playing in Detroit and will forever be a Lion. My biggest regret is that I wasn’t able to help give our fans a championship. But I do believe the future of the Lions is bright and with the leadership from people like Rod Wood and Bob Quinn, who I have gotten to know over the past few months, I am confident that our fans will soon be rewarded with the championship you deserve.
“From the bottom of my heart I thank you all for everything.”
All signs throughout the offseason have pointed to Johnson retiring, as he reportedly told friends and family after the season that he is calling it a career. The 30-year-old was still playing at a very high level, having caught 88 passes for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns last season. However, he has battled injuries in recent years and played through a lot of pain.
One of Johnson’s former teammates recently blasted the Lions for not trying convince Megatron to stay with the team. From the way it sounds, it probably wouldn’t have mattered.
The Detroit Lions have reportedly begun pressuring Calvin Johnson to make up his mind about whether or not he will play in 2016.
With free agency set to begin on Wednesday, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes that the Lions are “pushing to get an answer soon” from Johnson. To this point, the team has tried not to give Johnson any deadlines or ultimatums. However, you can understand why his decision would have a huge impact on how the Lions approach free agency.
Rand Getlin of NFL Network reports that the Lions expect a decision around noon on Tuesday.
Johnson carries a whopping salary cap hit of $24 million for 2016, and some have speculated that he could be dragging out his retirement decision to strong-arm the Lions into releasing him. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Detroit will want Johnson to restructure his contract if he sticks around.
One of Johnson’s former teammates recently ripped the Lions for not trying harder to convince Johnson to play next season. Could that be because they would rather the 30-year-old receiver call it a career and clear his salary off the team’s books? We should find out in the very near future.
As NFL teams work to evaluate talent at the Scouting Combine and figure out what their needs are heading into 2016, the Detroit Lions are still waiting to determine if they will be left with a major hole at wide receiver.
Lions GM Bob Quinn told reporters on Wednesday that Calvin Johnson has yet to inform the team if he will play next season.
“I have spoken to Calvin, I did speak to Calvin, I’m not going to go into any details about what we talked about, and there is no update on his status right now,” Quinn said, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. “I don’t have any expectations. We had a good conversation. He didn’t tell me if he’s leaning one way or the other. We’re giving him time to make that decision. There’s no deadline.”
While all indications to this point have been that Johnson is calling it a career, it’s a virtual certainty that he would need to agree to a restructured contract if he does return. Quinn said there have been no conversations about Megatron’s $24 million cap hit for 2016 just yet.
“We haven’t even gotten to that point yet,” he said. “That’s something that, if that does come down the road, we may talk about it, we may not. We haven’t even broached that topic yet, internally or externally.”
Johnson could really put the Lions in a tough position if he waits to make a decision. There has been some talk that he could return to the team with a customized practice schedule like this, but that seems very unlikely.
It’s fair to wonder if the Lions would prefer it if Megatron retired, as it would save them a ton of money and prevent a potentially sticky situation. One former teammate of Johnson’s believes the team isn’t making much of an effort to convince Megatron, and that could be the reason why.
Barry Sanders, who walked away from the NFL at 31, believes Calvin Johnson’s retirement would be “devastating” for the Lions.
Sanders was asked about Johnson’s potential retirement at Saturday’s NFL Honors ceremony.
“I feel like I’m stunned a little bit like most people,” Sanders said, via Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News. “I feel like around June, we’ll give him until June or so, and then we should start knocking on his door.
“It would certainly be difficult,” Sanders said. “He’s given a lot to our organization and our team and such a great player and one of those guys you just love having in your organization. Hey, it would be devastating, no question about it.”
Johnson and Sanders have received plenty of comparison since the news broke that the Lions receiver was strongly considering retirement. Both are or were elite players playing for a franchise that saw little success during their tenures, so Sanders certainly understands where Megatron is coming from here. There’s no denying that, even though he’s not quite the dominant force he was even a few years ago, losing Johnson would be a huge blow to Detroit’s offense.