Calvin "Megatron" Johnson spent nine years toiling for the woeful Detroit Lions and just recently retired from the NFL. But might there have been a better way?
Born Sept. 29, 1985, Johnson is now 30 years old. Had he played in the 2016 season, obviously he would have turned 31 shortly after it began. Not exactly geezerish in the NFL world as a wide receiver, but his best years are likely behind him. There is no doubt Johnson had suffered through a range of injuries in recent years that limited his practice time, but he always seemed to show up on game day and play like a gladiator. And really -- what else mattered in the brutal world of the NFL? Coaches might care about practice, and it's surely important, but only the results of the games themselves truly count.
To his credit, Johnson got out with his body and brain pretty much intact. Plus enough money to provide him, his immediate family, and likely the next few generations of Johnsons a comfortable lifestyle. These are very good things well earned and deserved by a very good man.
But what if.....
Calvin had chosen a different tack? For the sake of hypothetical argument, consider the following scenario:
Much like Barry Sanders, Johnson surely knew he'd never get within Hail Mary distance of a Super Bowl while with the Detroit Lions. To continue playing for them would mean a lot more money and personal stats racked up, but the Promised Land would forever remain out of reach. Plus, Calvin had been dinged up in recent years.
Instead of outright retiring, as in forever, Calvin might have considered asking the Lions to void his contract, and the team likely would have agreed. The mega millions saved could be put to work elsewhere signing quality players. Few would doubt the Lions have many needs.
Then take the whole 2016-2017 season off to let his body fully regenerate and heal while continuing to work out on his own to stay in shape. One more year has clicked by and Calvin would then be 31 going on 32. A small chronological difference, but a full year off could do wonders for his body, psyche, and give him one last shot at glory.
At that point, he could be a total free agent, fully re-charged and raring to go. Somewhere. Anyplace but back to Detroit. Out of the other 31 NFL teams, tell me at least 25 of them wouldn't be interested in his services and I'll tell you I don't believe it. If CJ was willing to accept a more modest contract to play for a team that had a legitimate shot of going on to and winning the Super Bowl, it could be a win-win situation. Johnson could pick whatever team he wished. At that point, it wouldn't be about the money anymore, which he already has scads of, but rather one last shot at a ring.
Think the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and especially Tom Brady, if he's still around, wouldn't dearly love to have Calvin Johnson to throw to? How about Big Ben in Pittsburgh? CJ could be the difference maker for a few already very good teams getting over the top to capture the Lombardi trophy in February of 2018. Good grief, the Lions had him under contract through 2019 (hence both sides thought he could play at least that long), but Johnson walked away and who could blame him?
Chances are very good Calvin Johnson still has a few more years of "dynamite" wide receiver left in him -- and it seems a pity he, a good team somewhere, and the viewing public will never get to experience them. And it would be great to see such a fine man finally play for a winner.
Alas, like Barry Sanders before him, the Lions and their incompetent losing ways just flat wore him out and he decided to retire. On that note, had Barry played a few more years (and he surely could have) he likely would have set the all-time NFL rushing record bar so high it would NEVER be approached again.
So chalk up a #20 and a #81, both fantastic players, as just two more guys the Lions drafted high, chewed up (physically and emotionally) and eventually spit out on to their huge scrap heap of players that never got a realistic chance of ever knowing what it felt like to at least be a legitimate contender -- let alone a champion.
It really is a shame -- but that pretty much sums up the Lions over the decades.