The Detroit Lions brain trust has maintained that their strategy to build a championship contender involved retaining and building around a core group of players.
Those words turned to action as the Lions secured superstar receiver Calvin Johnson earlier this week through 2019 by signing him to an eight-year, $132 million pact.
The deal includes an NFL record $60 million guaranteed.
The benchmark-setting deal seems fitting for the 26-year-old receiver, who spent much of 2011 establishing team and league records.
Johnson finished the 2011 regular season with 96 receptions for 1, 681 yards and 16 touchdowns, setting the Lions single-season mark for touchdowns.
"Megatron's" 1,681 receiving yards led the league and represented the seventh best single-season total in league history while he joined Randy Moss as the only player in league history to record 1,600 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns in a season.
The deal enables the pairing of Johnson and 24-year-old quarterback Matthew Stafford to build on an already strong rapport as they continue to establish themselves as one of the league’s most dominant quarterback receiver combinations.
Beyond their statistical exploits, the duo ensured the team's first post-season appearance in over a decade; a combination that brought the franchise from league doldrums into league relevancy in exciting fashion.
Speaking of Stafford, the third-year quarterback was thrilled to know his favorite target was taken care of by the team.
“Congrats to @Bigplaycj and the Lions,” tweeted Stafford shortly after the deal was announced. “Couldn’t happen to a better guy! Glad to have him back for a while!”
The relationship between Stafford and Johnson is the cornerstone of Detroit's success.
Both players possess world-class talent which blends perfectly due to the genuine respect shared between them.
In addition to their shared admiration of one another, both are notoriously hard workers and are dedicated to the improvement of their craft. As you would expect from an elite passing combination, Stafford and Johnson always are willing to put in extra time to further their chemistry. They often can be seen at practice getting some extra throws in between drills as they fine tune their game.
They also support each other.
Johnson will be the first one to come to Stafford’s defense if a game doesn’t go his way and Stafford remains amazed when recapping Johnson’s performances with the media even days after a game.
Prior to the beginning of the season, ESPN analyst and former NFL receiver Chris Carter failed to include Johnson in a list of his top-five receivers and confidently stood by his claims when immediately questioned about Johnson’s absence. Johnson, meanwhile, let his play respond -- making a fool of the former Viking.
Stafford was more vocal.
After Johnson began the season with multi-touchdown performances in three consecutive games, he was poised to set the NFL record scoring two touchdowns in the season’s first four games.
“Does anyone think eight TDs in four weeks changes Chris Carter’s mind about an ‘elite’ receiver?,” tweeted Stafford prior to Johnson’s two touchdown performance against the Dallas Cowboys.
There is no doubt that a championship team is built around a strong nucleus of players. For the Lions, that nucleus starts with Stafford and Johnson.