Thursday, January 21, 2016

What became of "Megatron"?

Detroit Lions' wide receiver Calvin Johnson was once known as the "Megatron". No real name necessary. Every NFL fan, particularly in the Detroit area, knew who Megatron was.

But something has changed in the last year or so. Megatron seems to have ceased to exist. Now the media, and even the team itself, refer to him merely by his real name. It's Calvin this, or Johnson that, but nary a mention of Megatron.

It's a subtle, but very telling sign. How could this come to pass for a receiver supposedly in his "prime"? After all, nicknames like "Magic", "Babe", and "Tiger" never reverted back to Earvin, George, and Eldrick.

Granted, Calvin Johnson is unlike the three above-mentioned names in that he's never won anything while toiling away for the Detroit Lions and their losing ways over the years he has been on their roster. Not even a single playoff game, let alone sniffing, much less winning a Super Bowl.

But the former Megatron put up some very impressive receiving stats over the years as well. Though possessing immense talent, this was most likely the result of the Lions not having many other offensive options to go to over the years. Their lack of a running game, other mediocre wide receivers, and tight ends with Roberto Duran-ish hands of stone usually equated to one thing. When QB Matthew Stafford was in doubt -- which was often -- heave it in the general direction of Calvin and hope he makes a spectacular play. Oftentimes he did.

Yet that came with a price. The opposing defenses knew this, and the Megatron was forced to absorb hit after brutal hit. He might catch the ball in double or triple coverage, but he would also get hammered a millisecond later. Over time, this will take it's toll on the toughest and best conditioned athlete.

In the last couple years, Calvin -- nee Megatron -- Johnson has taken so much punishment he's barely able to practice between games during the weeks of the season. To his credit, CJ toughs it out and gives everything he has on game day. He's also making more than a million bucks a game. Hardly chump change. But he is not the force he once was. Various injuries have hobbled him and opposing defenses are no longer awed by his presence. They fully understand he's "lost a step" and rotate their coverages accordingly. Megatron has ceased to exist. Now it's just Calvin Johnson, a good, but no longer elite wide receiver.

One can't blame Calvin Johnson for signing on to a long term contract with the Lions. It guaranteed him lifetime financial security. With various "bonuses" to date Mr. Johnson has made over $100 million. Even after taxes, that's likely enough to afford most people a rather comfortable lifestyle.

And the Lions contractually own his butt for the next 4 years. Unless something drastically changes, CJ can't become a free agent until the 2020 season.

Consider his physical state right now. Does anybody really think he'll make it through another 4 years of taking the poundings that come with playing for the Lions?

By most all accounts, Calvin Johnson is a truly good man. His once-freakish abilities as a wide receiver aside, he's tough, humble, a team player, and quietly "gives back" to certain worthwhile organizations. Johnson doesn't beat his own drum like so many other professional athletes do with high profile interviews and their TV addiction (plus cha-chings) to whoring themselves out to endorse various products they likely don't even partake of. Calvin Johnson has remained above that fray -- and kudos to him for doing so.

Yet one is left to wonder just how high a wattage bulb burns between his ears. Look at it this way ---

There is little to no chance the Detroit Lions will get to the Super Bowl in the next four years. In the NFC, there are too many other teams that are already superior -- see Seattle and Arizona. And others that are young and coming on strong -- see obviously Carolina and don't sleep on Minnesota in coming years. If Calvin Johnson stays with the Lions throughout the duration of his contract, he'll never be a champion, and four years from now -- if he even makes it that long -- who knows how bad his legs will be?

If I could advise Calvin Johnson, I would tell him this:

[Your Megatron days are over, at least in Detroit.
You already have more than enough money in the bank to keep you, your kids, and likely grandkids financially secure for their lifetimes.
So instead of contemplating full retirement, why not just take a year off? Let your body completely heal. It's not like you need another $20+ million this year to go out and take another pounding.
And instruct your agent to tell the Lions you want out of the contract. It would give them a lot of cap space to help their team elsewhere -- lord knows they need it -- and you could come back fresh in 2017 playing for a team elsewhere that has at least a decent shot at getting to the Super Bowl.
You've still got a few good years left in you if you play it smart, and might even get a "ring" someday if things work out just right.
With the Lions, the best you can ever hope for -- besides more money which you don't need -- is being able to walk without a limp when you're 40. Or maybe even being able to remember what your name is by age 50. These are not good scenarios.

In the whole scheme of things, you're a mighty fine man, Calvin Johnson. So while you're off contemplating your future, here's hoping you think ALL your options through thoroughly.

Unless all those brutal losing years in Detroit have already turned him into the mental equivalent of an Edsel with a blown head gasket, there's a better way to proceed in the future.]

For his own sake -- here's hoping the former Megatron finds it.

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