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Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I never quite know at what point we should be posting news of the "sources report" variety. I usually prefer for a trade or retirement or cut to actually be announced. But at this point there have been enough reports that Calvin Johnson is going to retire that I think we can consider this one on the up-and-up. Johnson is still playing at a high level -- he was eighth in DYAR and 16th in DVOA among wide receivers this year -- and the Lions are going to miss him significantly on the field. I'll certainly miss getting to see his great athletic talents. However, this is also going to open up a lot of salary cap room for the Lions. What do readers think they should do to replace Johnson -- and the cap room he took up?

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Comments

75 comments, Last at 01 Mar 2016, 2:12pm

1 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Oh man, I feel like this must be April fools. I'm not a Lions fan, but I always enjoyed watching that dude play. He was as dominant and game changing as Barry Sanders, and just like Barry, he's leaving us too soon? It's a shame we won't get to watch that anymore.

2 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

So will he get into the HOF with this short of a career…?

Anyway, sad to see him go. I would think there's still a somewhat decent chance he'll get the itch again after a year or two away and come back, like Randy Moss did. He'd still be young enough, I should think, since he's only 30 now.

25 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

It's more likely than not he will be in the HOF, but he's not a slam dunk. The unquestioned first-balloters had an impressive peaks where they were great, then several years of being merely good, but also stat-compiling. Johnson will be missing the stat-compiling years (as it stands, he's only in the mid-20s on the all-time receiving yards list). Also, not even sniffing a championship will hurt his case among many voters.

28 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I'd put him in, but I do think if he had passed the 100 td mark, it would be more of a sure thing. He's "only" 22nd, playing in the most pass friendly era in NFL history, which I think will hurt his immediate induction as well. I'd put him in immediately due to his rank in yards per reception. 9 years is big enough to not discount that metric.

50 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Good points. My guess is that Johnson gets in eventually, but well down the road. Comparing him to Sterling Sharpe, though, is sobering. Sharpe isn't getting in unless it's as a Senior many years from now, and he played seven years with postseason honors of 3/5/none. Johnson played nine years and has honors of 3/6/???, and they have about the same amount of "black ink" (times leading the league in a major category). And WRs with short careers haven't done well with the voters historically (Sharpe, Mac Speedie, Del Shofner) -- the voters really seem to like big career stats a lot. We shall see in 5 years or so.

45 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Herman Moore had 4 seasons with more than 1000 yards. Johnson had 7, and about 2500 more yards total, in 3 fewer seasons. Johnson had 2.2 more yards per catch. Johnson had 83 tds, Moore 62. Yes, Johnson had about 220 more targets, but then he didn't obtain the benefit, like Moore did, of having 7-9 defenders obsessed, on the majority of snaps, with containing one of the most explosive running backs in league history. I remember those NFC Central Games. No defense prioritized stopping Herman Moore over Barry Sanders.

I think it is absolutely clear that Johnson was better than Herman Moore.

48 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Remove Moore's 3 worst years (first and last 2) and you have 9 years to compared to Johnson's.

Yards per reception:
Moore: 13.7
Johnson: 15.9

Yard per game:
Moore: 69.5
Johnson: 86.1

Receptions per game:
Moore: 5.0
Johnson: 5.4

In addition 6 total probowls to 4 (both had 3 all pros), and Johnson was essentially screwed in 2008 by playing in the wrong conference (5 of the top 6 receivers in yards were in the NFC).

4 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Interesting contract dynamic going on here if I have the details right. He could technically be on the hook for giving back 3.5 million of his signing bonus. However, his dead cap hit if he retires right now is "only" 12 million, but accelerates to 24 million if he retires after March 1, and 24 million is what his cap number is for 2016.

Obviously, the Lions weren't going to pay him 24 million anyways, but maybe Johnson is simply saying to the team that if they don't try to claw back 3.5 million, he'll file for retirement within the timeframe needed to avoid a really, really, painful dead cap hit.

11 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I wonder if they care if they have to take the $24 million hit all at once, or over two years. My guess is that that spreading it is strongly preferred. If Johnson gives back the $3.5 million willingly, he's a better man than me. If I had been bludgeoned for nine years for the benefit of the Ford family, and they wanted to get 3.5 million of their massive cash flow back, after doing what Johnson had for them, I'd make sure managing the dead money was as painful for them as possible.

13 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

However, you might enjoy the last paragraph of this article, which speculates that (if he really wanted to), Johnson can completely screw over the Lions cap if he so chooses by retiring and then un-retiring before training camp as a way to engineer his release.

http://overthecap.com/what-happens-when-calvin-johnson-retires/

(I've never read anything to suggest that Johnson doesn't like the organization or wants out, and I also don't understand why the cap rules work this way. But it's kind of entertaining to imagine a player doing something like this to stick it to his old bosses.)

21 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

yeah, I'm not familiar with these arcane rules, but it appears that Johnson's agent by structuring the deal in a manner which allows Johnson to ulitimately make his 2016 cap number 29 million dollars, if he really wants to maximize the pain to the Lions, has given Johnson quite a bit of leverage, even if he just wants to quit. Maybe the billionaires in the Ford family will think twice about trying to claw back a mere 3.5 to 5.5 million (I've seen varying numbers), if they know the cotract allows Johnson to inflict a lot of discomfort as well. Again, kudos to Johnson's agent.

37 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Well, the thing about the billionaires getting "screwed" is... they're still billionaires.

Now - if one were to ever be personally on the hook for repaying a stadium subsidy whose economic benefits never materialized (along with whichever public officials signed off on them)... That would be pure comedy gold.

It's not going to happen, but a fellow can dream.

38 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

It's kind of a shame, because I've kind of admired (as much as that word is appropriate for people who are strangers), for years, guys like Romo, Witten, and Ware, and now Smith, etc.. However, it is just so darn fun to see ol' Rubberface, in a close-up, perhaps with about 16 ounces of Johnny Blue coursing through his veins, watching yet another Cowboys disaster unfold before him.

19 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Well, assuming Calvin's and honest and decent man (which by all appearances he is) the right thing to do is to give back the money. He signed a contract with the understanding that he would play, at minimum, that number of years, which bonus money is based on.

Now, I agree that it's best for the Lions to let him keep it in exchange for filing retirement papers ASAP, since he could, in fact, drag it out and force the Lions to cut him at a very late date. Having that cap room, and dollars, to spend as soon as free agency opens is worth more that the 3.5.

20 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Well, if we are going to go by the letter of what was agreed to, in terms of what if right and honorable, the Lions agreed to allow Johnson to hammer them, if Johnson saw it in his interest to do so. If the Lions try to claw back signing money, it is reasonable for Johnson to bring down the hammer the Lions agreed to give him.

When both parties agreed to put gun barrels to each other's temple, the honorable, and smart, thing to do, is to then form one more agreement, to carefully holster the weapons, nod respectfully, then each party go their own way.

23 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Whatever deserved criticism the Ford family gets about their football acumen, they've never been cheapskates. When Barry Sanders retired, if I recall correctly (it's been almost 17 years), the team could have gone after a portion of his signing bonus, too, but chose not to out of respect for his contributions.

I expect (and hope) the team does the same thing with Johnson. Now, the one non-financial reason to go after the signing bonus is that if it is returned, it clears up a couple million in cap space. I'm still not sure that's worth the PR fallout.

27 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Yeah, I don't think the Ford's money grubbing ways are in any way unusual by NFL owner standards (hell, they only had about 40% of their stadium paid for with tax revenues, and the building only cost about 540 million in 2016 dollars), but the idea that any NFL owner, swimming in a waterfall of cash, would try to reclaim a measely 3.5 to 5.5 million bucks, from a guy who has performed like Johnson has for 9 years, and sacrificed his body like he has, is really obnoxious to me.

35 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

When Barry Sanders retired, ... the team could have gone after a portion of his signing bonus, too, but chose not to out of respect for his contributions.

The Lions did go after the prorated portion Sanders's bonus. Sanders had to repay, albeit in annual installments of $1.83 million during training camp of every missed season, not a lump sum just after retiring. (Sanders signed a 6-year contract with an $11 million bonus before the 1997 season, then retired after the 1998 season.)

52 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Nevertheless, the Ford's aren't bad owners in the traditional way we think of bad owners. Honestly, the Lions main issues are the same with every other moribund franchise, they've not had a great qb. Its remarkable how that one thing can transform our opinions. Not everyone is going to get a belichick or ozzie newsome.

Are the colts really a paragon of success without having fallen ass backwards into the number 1 picks at a time when both prospects were great? I mean, in some sense(and this is especially true for the last 8 years of the colts); management has done their best to make it harder on their qb.

55 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I was more inclined to believe he was having an affair with someone in the family. There is no other explanation for the length of his tenure as GM. I mean, it took an 0-16 season for him to get fired. If he instead had just kept going 4-12, he might still be the GM.

My god, I think a blindfolded chimp with a dartboard would've have performed better - tho CJ proves that some picks really are idiot proof.

59 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Well, if you draft a position of need enough times, you're bound to hit one eventually, right? I mean, Charles Johnson, Roy Williams, Fat Mike Williams . . . statistically speaking, even Matt Millen had to be right purely by accident at some point.

It's like Cleveland with QBs; Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel . . . who's feeling good about QB #2 OVERALL PICK for Cleveland?

5 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Watching this guy play has been a delight. I wish it wasn't coming to an end. But hopefully he's getting out early and healthy enough to really enjoy his life after football. He has provided so many moments of sheer unstoppable dominance, and I'm really glad I got to see some of them real-time, and many more in highlight form.

6 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Calvin was a transcendent receiver. A truly gifted player. I think he's better than all but Rice and Moss as receivers in nfl history in terms of peak value. Playing for the lions seems to be early retirement inducing, doesn't it?

16 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I know FO breaks defenses up based on facing #1/#2/#3 WRs and such, but are there any stats for QBs throwing to #1 vs. other WRs? I'm curious to know exactly how much better Stafford's DVOA has been flinging the ball at Megatron vs. other guys. Prior to Golden Tate joining a couple years back and Detroit developing some other actual offensive options, it always seemed like most of the Lions' offensive game plan consisted of Stafford running around the pocket and flinging a Hail Calvin down the field, and it working over and over again.

41 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Calvin was a freak athlete that could run routes - something very few seem to be able to do. Its what separates him from dez bryant and demaryius thomas( tho staggeringly, both are inferior athletes to Calvin too).

We'll never know what might have been if he had gone to a better team with a more consistently accurate qb and a much stronger offensive identity. I suspect we'd be talking about him like we would gronk. I don't think there's been a better receiver in terms of peak value than Calvin and that includes Moss.

56 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Calvin Johnson brings up a very important question: why do players choose to play football?

As https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2015/12/15/how-jeff-samardzija-just-proved-athletes-would-be-foolish-to-pick-nfl-over-mlb/ points out, Jeff Smardzija and Calvin Johnson were both All-American WR's in 2006. One of them chose pro football, the other pro baseball. The baseball player is an average to below-average starting pitcher: his career W/L is 47-61, and his ERA since 2012 ranks 63rd of the 90 pitchers with more than 500 innings. The football player was the greatest WR of his generation.

The starting pitcher will have made $122 million by the time his current (fully guaranteed) contract runs out. The generational talent WR is retiring having made 113 million over his career. Though pitchers do have risks to their elbow and shoulders (and occasional concussions from the leather sphere thrown at your head at 100mph) it's nothing like the health risks faced by football players.

So, more money, guaranteed contracts AND less risk of brain damage?

57 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I appreciate where you are going, but Smardzjia had a viable, large scale baseball offer, from playing in college. He received 11 million guaranteed out of the gate. Now, if Johnson had gone to a college where he was allowed to keep playing baseball, maybe he would have had that option as well, but as it was, this was the baseball scouting report on Johnson as a high school player....

"I thought he was Jermaine Dye, but he was so raw at the plate. It was tough,” the scout said. “There were a lot of swings and misses, but if he connected, he hit the ball as hard as anyone I ever scouted. But he would be a two-year rookie ball guy. So clearly he was a better football player. He was way ahead as a football guy.”

He was only the 20th best prospect in the state of Georgia, as a baseball player.

http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/ask-ba-nfls-best-baseball-players/

If your point was that Johnson would have better served going to a school which allowed him to play both sports, I tend to agree, but then again Russell Wilson came in 2nd on that baseballamerica list, behind Johnson, and the reality is that he just was not able to hit minor league pitching, much less major league pitching.

Guys like Smardszijia, are very, very, very, rare, but there is no doubt that Bo Jackson would have made a lot more money if he had devoted himself to baseball alone. He would have become an unrestricted free agent just as the collusion era was ending, and between the ages of 28 and, who knows, 40, 41?, he would have really cleaned up, assuming his injury issues were mostly football related.

58 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

If your point was that Johnson would have better served going to a school which allowed him to play both sports, I tend to agree, but then again Russell Wilson came in 2nd on that baseballamerica list, behind Johnson, and the reality is that he just was not able to hit minor league pitching, much less major league pitching.

Shaq Thompson is the go-to athlete for football players who made an effort to play baseball and just couldn't hit at all.

61 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I'm a little surprised we don't see more qb/pitcher prospects, but qb is such a time consumer any more, maybe there are fewer qbs playing multiple sports. I can't rememer what kind of prospect Jameis Winston was. The risk of pitching, of course, is that you suffer major injury before you have significant major league success and get to unrestricted free agency, but man, there may not be a better financial position an athlete can have than being a pitcher with a good track record, just decent health, and 5 years of major league service. That's the story of Smardzijia; pitching, even if just average or slightly below average pitching, even just ok health, and 5 years of major league service, is what everybody should aspire to get reincarnated to.

62 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Here's a page for Winston from 2012 that ranks him as the 48th best prospect from that year. (He fell to the 15th round of that year's MLB draft because it was clear he was going to Florida State to play football and never signed with the Rangers.)

Here are Winston's statistics from Florida State. Great prospects almost always are starting pitchers in college, but the Seminoles were almost certainly babying his arm.

73 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Sure, there are certainly people who try Baseball full time and full throttle and never manage to control the strike zone properly, so it is not a guarantee that Calvin Johnson, outfielder, even makes it to the Show. [1] On the other hand, Calvin Johnson, WR had no guarantee that he would get $100 million either- a priori, would you have known that Calvin Johnson would get so, so, so much more money than Charles Rogers? Rogers had to repay what, 6 million of his $9 million signing bonus after he was cut?

[1]: I have a recollection of ... I think it was a Posnanski article, where he asked a professional tennis coach whether ARod (the NY Yankee) would be a dominant tennis player and the tennis guy said "sure, he'd be about the 150th best player" and the baseball guy was like "that low, really?" and the tennis guy was like "hey, 150th best in the world is AMAZING. He's better than 99.9999% of the people on the planet. Just not maybe quite as good as a couple of others." So I do understand that cross sport comparisons are tough here.

10 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I think you can conclude he stands as the greatest NFL player to come from Georgia Tech, which may seem obvious in this day and age but in different eras that meant something, with players like Joe Guyon and Billy Shaw...

In the modern era his competition would be the likes of Doresey Levens, Drew Hill and Keith Brooking.

14 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

This completely sucks for Lions fans; he's been the compelling reason to really watch the Lions at all for years. I guess the last year or two Golden Tate has finally provided another option, but even I'd turn on Lions games just so I could see Megatron do insane things.

I don't blame the guy for walking away while he still has two functioning knees and/or a functioning brain.

40 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I disagree him leaving hurts the Lions like most are saying.

Keep in mind this was a team who had spent the most money of any team in the NFL at the WR spot in each of the last two seasons. They also ranked dead last in money spent on the offensive line as well. If anything this puts things more back into balance for them going forward.

49 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

To get better, they need A) more consistent play from their qb B) protect their qb better C)play defense better. Now, I think A and C are in good measure related to coaching, and Jim Bob the OC may be a step in the right direction, but I don't think the Head Coach is good enough to be a difference maker. That fiasco against the Packers in Detroit, and not just on the final play, indicated to me a really serious deficit in preparation.

51 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I believe B and C can happen with the right personnel moves and just enough progression. A has been a constant "what if" basically his entire career that at this point, I'm ready to say the book has been written on Stafford. He shakes out as slightly above average and the day his arm strength declines, he will be a backup/journeyman almost instantly.

Its funny to think about who the better qb is, alex smith or matthew stafford. Stafford is by far a better thrower and has much higher upside, but smith's risk averse tendencies and timely rushing work much better for a defense oriented team than stafford's wild inaccuracies ever would. On the other hand, smith on a lousy team probably finishes does worse than stafford would.

All told - I'd rather have Alex Smith and that just shows how much being an inconsistent thrower negates all the other talents you might have.

24 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

Despite my favorite team being mostly bumbling and moribund during my fanhood, I count myself lucky to have been able to see Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson play during my lifetime. They made rooting for this franchise somewhat tolerable when they took the field. I still enjoy going to youtube and watching video compilations of their highlights.

As far what the Lions should do with the extra cap space, new GM Bob Quinn has said that he believes the offensive/defensive lines are the most important areas of the team, so I hope he follows his own advice. Trying to replace Johnson with a single draft pick or free agent would be a fool's errand.

65 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

I think the biggest problem is that the cap guy in Detroit sucks at his job. It's possible to pay players lots of money, but still be able to maneuver, extend and such to mitigate the effects, and it doesn't seem like Lions took advantage of any of them.

The 2015 team with say Josh McCown or Ryan Fitzpatrick and Suh instead of Stafford would have been interesting.

66 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

That is undoubtedly why the GM and team prez were fired. It is also still true that the Lions suffered from drafting actual star players in the last years of the old CBA.

I think they still did better than the Rams, who did even worse on recent high picks, and haven't gotten to the playoffs at all during the same span.

71 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

The Lions (and the Rams) really got hosed cap-wise by having several high draft picks from the previous CBA. Those picks were close to being bad things to have, when they are supposed to be boons.

The salaries were so high that it crippled the team. If the NFL was really trying to be fair they'd have given teams burdened with those silly contracts some relief.

69 Re: Sources: Calvin Johnson Has Told Lions He Will Retire

That was my view at the time, and I was burned as a heretic. Literally. The rope marks are still visible.

I understand the thinking that finding even average QB talent is hard to do, but the mistake made is paying that average QB like a superstar for fear of a worse replacement. I actually think I used Fitzpatrick as my example too.