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The Detroit Lions are about to force another All Time Great into retirement. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is considering retirement to get away from football, and joining running back Barry Sanders to escape from Detroit.
Johnson collected 1,214 yards and 9 touchdowns on 88 receptions this season, which would be an outstanding year for a top ten receiver. The 6'5, 240 receiver with 4.40 speed earned the sobriquet Megatron due to his freakish abilities; top ten is a down year for him.
Most greats tend to fade away down the final stretch of their career, or jump to a contender to try and contribute, a la Patriots running back Steven Jackson. Johnson has made the postseason twice in his career- both one-and-dones- and perhaps Johnson would like to escape from weekly hits like this one, delivered by Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins:
The problem with Johnson trying to leave and join another team is his albatross of a contract; his 2015 cap hit was the third largest in the entire league at $20.6 million (behind just quarterbacks Drew Brees and Philip Rivers) and his 2016 cap hit grows to $24.0 million.
No one will want to trade for the receiver, even though he's still an elite talent. The only way to escape from Detroit is to retire.
There is plenty of smoke around the league that Johnson is expecting to hang up his jersey this offseason, and Johnson even released the following statement:
"Like many players at this stage of their career, I am currently evaluating options for my future. I would expect to have a decision regarding this matter in the not-too-distant future."
The 30-year-old Johnson still has the physical ability to compete for a few more seasons, unlike the Colts 34-year-old wideout Andre Johnson. The only way that Johnson would be able to sign with another team would be if the Lions release him from his contract after his retirement. Any retirement effectively freezes the contract and will be reinstated if the player wishes to return to the league.
If the Lions and Johnson wish to part ways, there's no way Detroit could outright cut such an important franchise cornerstone; the only way for these sides to part with their images intact would be for Calvin to retire and sit out the offseason, with the Lions released him from his contract.
Teams would rather not hold retired players hostage because of the negative perception, but also because a retired player could come out of retirement and continue to wreck the salary cap as his $24.0 million cap hit would immediately come into play. Cutting Johnson would also free up roughly $11.1 million in cap space for the Lions.
The Patriots traded for a 30-year-old Randy Moss and had three great seasons. If Johnson retires, New England should camp out on his front lawn to see how they could team up Johnson with Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman to form the most unfair offensive grouping in NFL history.