Back in 2016 when Calvin Johnson formally announced his retirement from the NFL, he barely had time to clean out his locker before he became the latest All-Pro receiver to get thrown into the mix of “_______ needs to sign with the Patriots and give Tom Brady a DOWNFIELD WEAPON and a BIG PLAY THREAT!”
(It’s all because of Randy Moss, obviously, never mind that Bill Belichick actually has rolled the dice on a wish-list of great receivers on the back nine of their careers. It’s just that Moss is one of the only ones that actually worked out, and by “worked out”, we mean “re-wrote the record books”. Remember Joey Galloway, Alge Crumpler, Torry Holt, Chad Johnson/Ochocinco, Brandon Lloyd and “please get me out of here” Reggie Wayne?)
Just a week or two after Megatron hung up his cleats for good after the 2015-2016 season, Johnson un-retiring and signing with New England got everyone all antsy in their pantsy, and it seems like Johnson’s former teammate Nate Burleson, who was with NFL Network by then, got it started when Burleson wrote this at the time:
“So does Calvin deserve to be a Hall of Famer? Absolutely. He was the best receiver in the business for years, and not enough can be said about what he's meant to me, Detroit and the game. Yet, there is one final message I'd like to give him ...
Congratulations on your retirement, man. Now, take this year off ... then find a way to land with the Patriots and get a championship ring. You deserve it.”
That set off everyone from the local Boston sports guys to USA Today and Yahoo Sports to Mark Wahlberg, and now, a year and some change later, Calvin Johnson’s interview at a news conference in Italy seems to slam the door on any chance of him suiting up in a darker shade of blue and silver.
“Johnson, who was in Italy to present the game ball for Italian Bowl XXXVII, the American football championship game in the country, was asked by reporters if he ever thought about switching teams.
"Of course, I thought about it," he said. "Just like in basketball, you know, guys, they create these superteams. But it's not quite like that in football where I had the freedom just to go.
"I was stuck in my contract with Detroit, and they told me, they would not release my contract, so I would have to come back to them. I didn't see the chance for them to win a Super Bowl at the time, and for the work I was putting in, it wasn't worth my time to keep on beating my head against the wall and not going anywhere.
"It's the definition of insanity," he added, drawing laughter from the media in attendance.”
Take a second to laugh at Megatron going out of his way to kick Detroit in the nuts, and then take another look at the important part for Patriots fans and their dreams of Brady and Johnson taking NFL records and playing tether-ball with them:
"I was stuck in my contract with Detroit, and they told me, they would not release my contract, so I would have to come back to them.”
At the time he retired, Johnson was four years deep into a 7-year, $132 million contract extension, so Detroit still would’ve had him under contract in the event that he pulled a Brett Favre and un-retired. To hear him say it that way, though, really sounds like the Lions wouldn’t even consider releasing Johnson, which also makes it a logical assumption that they wouldn’t trade him, either. That means Megatron would’ve been at least stuck in Detroit for another two or three years, depending on how his contract was set up - assuming Detroit was set to handle the cap hits, which, well, let’s not go there.
Patriots fans are already seeing 19-0 this season after Bill Belichick went out and beefed up a Super-Bowl-winning offense with Saints standout Brandin Cooks, the one-two punch of Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead at running back, and invested some draft capital in offensive line depth, but the dream of Calvin Johnson in New England sure looks like it’s never, ever going to happen.
On the other hand, as my grandma was fond of saying, never is a long time from now.