Detroit Lions: Time to Consider Life After Calvin Johnson

Photograph: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Photograph: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

Calvin Johnson could retire. He could return. The Detroit Lions could also trade or release him. It’s time to ask what life will look like after Megatron.

When the Detroit Lions completed their regular season on January 3rd with a 24-20 win over the Bears, there were reasons to feel upbeat about the team moving forward. The Lions finished with six wins in their final eight games.  Matthew Stafford played some of the best football of his career during that stretch and the team defense and offensive line had worked their way back to respectability.

Still, there were plenty of what ifs.

What if Jim Bob Cooter had taken over for Joe Lombardi earlier in the season?

What if DeAndre Levy wasn’t injured all season?

What if Kam Chancellor hadn’t stripped Calvin Johnson at the goal line?

What if anyone had knocked down Aaron Rodgers‘ Hail Mary heave to Richard Rodgers?

A few moments here and there, and the Lions could have easily found themselves back in the playoffs again this year.

But it wasn’t meant to be. An NFL season is often filled with what if moments for every team. You can’t get too caught up on what ifs.

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Unfortunately, the Lions biggest what if moment occurred after their regular season was already over. It came on January 6th, when Calvin Johnson released a possibly ominous statement regarding his playing career. Now Lions Nation (ownership, coaches, players, and fans alike) have to ponder this: what if Calvin Johnson is finished playing for the Detroit Lions?

How do you replace, or attempt to replace, a player of Johnson’s skill and effectiveness? It might be an impossible task, but if we’ve seen the last of Johnson as a Lion, Detroit will have to try something.

They could look to replace Johnson with a free agent wide receiver. While free agency is still a ways away, there are some serviceable players likely to be available. Alshon Jeffery, Kamar Aiken, Marvin Jones, James Jones, Rueben Randle, Jarius Wright Malcom Floyd  and Mohamed Sanu headline a group of possible free agent receivers.

Unfortunately, few of them can come anywhere close to matching Johnson’s production or ability.

If free agency doesn’t offer a suitable replacement, the Lions could look at this year’s NFL draft for prospects.

Receivers Michael Thomas, William Fuller, Laquon Treadwell, Tyler Boyd, Josh Doctson, and Corey Coleman headline a group of possible draft targets. Treadwell and Doctson have size at the position. Coleman offers impressive production. Boyd has impressive athleticism and potential. Thomas and Fuller appear to be the most well-rounded.

But are any of them the next Calvin Johnson (or even the next Golden Tate)? It remains to be seen, but it will take a special talent, player, and person to fill Megatron’s shoes.

Not to mention, any resource the Lions use to replace Johnson, is one less resource available to them to fill their other current offseason needs (offensive line, defensive line, linebacker depth, and cornerback depth to name a few).

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What if Johnson just returned to play for the Lions for one more year?  That might make for a smoother transition to post-Megatron life. But whether that happens or not is anyone’s guess.