Thursday, March 10, 2016

Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions

So the former Megatron has decided to call it a career. Probably a smart move. He's got all the money he'll ever need and has certainly taken more than his fair share of beatings over the years playing for the sad-sack Lions. Best to get out with most of his body parts -- and brain -- still salvageable.

It really is a shame such an immense talent wound up having to waste it away in the dregs of Detroit. Nine years worth, and nary a playoff win -- not one -- let alone getting anywhere near sniffing a Super Bowl.

Will he eventually get into the Hall of Fame? A definite maybe/maybe not. Sure, CJ put up some impressive stats while toiling away for the Modowners -- and he's a genuinely good righteous man -- but the fact remains he signed his professional football life away to a franchise with a long history of being a loser. He didn't have to re-up his initial contract after being drafted. But he chose to do so out of some sense of misguided loyalty. This did not bode well for his mental acumen. And it's hardly a stretch to think the Hall voters -- 5 years hence -- haven't exactly been inclined to put former Detroit Lions at the top of their ballots in recent years.

The last one to legitimately be inducted was Barry Sanders -- way back in 2004. True, the late Charlie Sanders got in in 2007, but that was 30 years after he had played his last down. This "old-timer" stuff should have its limits. And also true is Dick LeBeau got his plaque in 2010. He hadn't played since Richard Nixon was running for his second term in 1972. But he's bounced around as a coach here and there for other clubs over the course of 38 years, so maybe that should count for something. But a Hall of Famer as a player? Not a chance. He was never that good.

And if the Lions weren't historically bad enough, things have got a lot worse in just the last couple years. They had a boy named Suh that was a dirty player, but a force on the field. He's gone. They had another D-lineman named Nick Fairley that was a loose cannon as well. He 2 B history. Their O-line remains Keystone Koppish, as in nobody seems to know who's going to be playing where, and the same could be said for their defensive secondary.

The last time the Lions had a truly good running back? See Barry Sanders above. Since, that position has been a revolving door of cast offs from other teams and wannabes that never panned out. Their linebacker corps is no better than average on their best day. A bunch of tight ends, but one can't catch, another can't block, and still another can't seem to stay healthy.

True, the Detroit Lions have long had really good place kickers and serviceable punters. Plus a reliable long-snapping center to aid in both facets of the special teams game.

But over the last several years, the majority of what little success the Lions had -- particularly on offense -- could be chalked up to the Matthew and Calvin show. See QB Matthew Stafford heave the football in the general direction of the former "Megatron" -- double or triple coverage notwithstanding. See Johnson out-jump much shorter defensive backs to haul them in. See Johnson take hit after vicious hit as a consequence. See Johnson unable to practice during the week due to the poundings he had to take. See the Lions, Stafford, the coaching staff, and even Johnson do the exact same thing the following game. Everybody knew it was coming. And Calvin Johnson paid the price again.

No doubt Calvin Johnson was a big, tough guy in peak physical condition. But nine years of beatings because he was over-used would exact a toll on anybody not named Superman. Sure, Calvin set a lot of receiving records along the way, made All-Pro teams, and was once considered to be among the best at his position. But besides the money he made from the Lions-- and it was a LOT -- after nine years he basically has nothing to show for it except creaky legs and a "maybe" shot at the Hall of Fame. Did I mention not even one playoff win?

Deleting Calvin Johnson from the Lions equation is a major blow. They are still lacking in many facets of the game as mentioned above. Georgia Peach Matthew Stafford, who racked up most of his passing stats heaving it in the general direction of Johnson over the years just saw his favorite target go poof into retirement. He, and the brain-trust of the Lions, ever the oxymoron, will have to figure out Plan B.

All I can say is -- good luck with that. Free agents may fill the void -- you say? It's possible, but it comes with a major catch or two -- no pun intended. A free agent has to WANT to come to Detroit. It's not like they can draft him. Which usually means one of two things. Either that player couldn't find a "contending" team that was interested in his services -- or he settled on the Lions for a big time money grab. Why else would somebody like Golden Tate leave a Super Bowl winning team in the beautiful city of Seattle, only to go to the historically woeful Lions in the crime and blight ridden cluster**** that remains Detroit?

Perhaps it will turn out to be a good thing for Matthew Stafford and the Lions. With Johnson gone, they'll be forced to develop other aspects of their game if they ever want a snowball's chance of becoming contenders. Then again, given all the other holes they have on their team, removing CJ could take them full circle. Didn't they go 0-16 in Johnson's first season?

Throw in a 90 year old heiress owner who hired her family "financial planner" as President of the franchise, and a guy who has freely admitted he knows nothing about the ways of the NFL. Add in a head coach who has a history of being a good lieutenant under other successful head coaches, but a failure when given the reins of command himself after a year or two.

True, they recently lured one Bob Quinn away from the Patriots to serve as GM. On the bright side, he can't possibly be any worse than any the Lions have had in the past. Yet what was truly laughable was the Detroit media pundits saying Quinn was held in such high esteem by the legendary Bill Bellichick, he was even allowed in the draft room. Yeah? And probably so were other people bringing the brass sandwiches and 5 hour energy drinks. It merely meant they could keep their mouths shut. But in reality it hardly elevated the mighty Quinn to miracle working GM status -- especially as a rookie -- and more especially trying to mold a contender out of the historically sad-sack franchise that is the Lions. From top to bottom, they have oozed incompetence for well over a half century.

Good luck, Bob. Yeah, you signed a multi-year contract for countless millions of guaranteed dollars, and you're pretty well financially set for life now. In a monetary sense, it surely beats being a fly on the wall in the Patriots' draft room. But this is the Detroit Lions you are attempting to make into a semi-respectable NFL franchise. The very same Lions that are arguably the sorriest franchise in the history of professional sports.

But incredibly, they still have a rabid fan base and the local media never seems to run out of the Honolulu blue and silver koolaid they peddle like crack dealers to the junkies. It's sad in a way, but entirely predictable. As they say, there just ain't no fixing stupid, and it has this nasty habit of passing itself down from one clueless generation to the next. SIXTY YEARS with a grand total of ONE playoff win is ample evidence the "duh" gene remains rampant in the bodies of Lions' fans that still think every year will be THE year. Super Bowl -- here we come. They might as well embark on a mission to the planet Jupiter in a hang glider. Let's just say the odds of ever saying "mission accomplished" are not good.

Nevertheless, here's wishing Calvin Johnson the best in wherever life takes him next. Hopefully, he gets far, far away from Detroit and the Lions. A truly good man deserves at least that much for what he has already sacrificed.

But I still think he made a tactical error with his retirement. There was a much better option likely available to him. More on that next time....

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