Calvin Johnson Retires: The Good, Bad, Ugly

Detroit Lions great Calvin Johnson has decided to hang up the cleats and retire from the NFL. He retires having set every significant receiving record for the Lions organization and holds the NFL record for receiving yards in a season. He also has the highest receiving yards per game average in NFL history (86.1). Aside from the stats, he’s been the face of the Lions for nearly a decade and his departure represents one of the biggest losses in team history. Here’s our analysis.

Detroit Lions legend Calvin Johnson has decided to retire from the NFL after nine seasons.  Johnson represents the biggest Lions retirement since Barry Sanders decided to step away from the game in the 90s.

With Johnson’s decision comes a full gamut of reaction. 

Here’s our instant analysis of the news.

The Good

Calvin Johnson stepped away from the game on his own terms.

At age 30, Johnson is no longer the pinnacle of his position.  There was a time – in the early 2010s – where the man nicknamed “Megaton” was arguably the best player in the NFL.  He was unstoppable for stretches and still holds the single-season receiving mark at 1,964 yards.

Although those days are in the past, Johnson remained a formidable foe for the opposition and was still amongst the best receivers in the game.  He finished 2015 with 1,214 receiving yards and nine scores – a testament to his ongoing brilliance.

Walking away from football – both figuratively and literally – is not a voluntary decision for many players.  Often even the greats are pushed out as their waning talents, and many times health, deteriorate to the point where they are hardly recognizable on the field.

There is no doubt that a 30-year-old Johnson is not the same as he once was but there is also no doubt that there is gas left in his tank.  He could be a difference maker in the NFL in 2016 if he wanted to be.

Instead, he opted to step away while he still could.  He also did so with the same humility he always conducted himself with.  No elaborate press conference for Calvin, instead saying; “those who know me best will understand and not be surprised I chose not to have a press conference”.

The Bad

Make no mistake about it, this is a blow to the Lions’ roster.

Johnson was still a weapon on offense and still commended the respect of opponents.  He created space on the field for his teammates and there were yards gained and touchdowns scored by others that could be directly attributed to him.

 Sure, the Lions get over $11 million in cap relief with Johnson’s retirement but the one-year cap clearance doesn’t truly enable the Lions to find a replacement.

The team still needs to secure cornerback Darius Slay and defensive end Ziggy Ansah to long term deals, which the Lions have to be conscious off when signing free agents this offseason. 

Since most contracts are back loaded, that extra cap space does little for the Lions outside of enabling them to add more depth players for a short period.

They would have been better off overpaying for Johnson in 2016 while attempting to draft/groom a replacement.

One cannot fault a player for prioritizing his health and personal interests and Johnson’s accomplishments should be celebrated but the Lions are a worse team with him out of the lineup as opposed to him coming back another year.

The Ugly

Johnson has conducted himself with integrity throughout his career and was consistent in his approach to retirement.

He informed the public at the conclusion of the season that retirement was on his mind – likely a genuine gesture to brace fans of his potential departure from the game.

However, the several months that it took Johnson to make a decision caused rampant speculation of ulterior motives.

Accusations of Johnson attempting to force the Lions’ hand in cutting him were among the baseless theories perpetuated. 

In addition, many accused Johnson of handcuffing the Lions as they entered free agency – as if the Lions were so sort sighted that his presence in 2016 would greatly alter their approach to the offseason.

After being an upstanding citizen for the Detroit Lions and the NFL alike for nearly a decade, Johnson’s name was being muddied by some of the same people that sung his praises for so long.

The fickle nature of the sports world was on full display.

This is one of the biggest decisions Johnson has made in his life and should have been afforded the time he needed with no second guessing.

If anyone conducted themselves in a manner that warranted unquestioned patience throughout the process, Johnson is the one. 

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