Column: Line Drives — Megatron is likely done

[This is my column in the Jan. 7 issue of The Commercial Review.]

Thanks for everything, Calvin Johnson.

During Sunday’s victory against the Chicago Bears, there was rhetoric going around that it was the last game “Megatron” played in a Detroit Lions uniform.

For most of the season, there was talk that Detroit should trade him to get rid of some cap space — he’s due slightly more than $24 million in 2016.

Wednesday, the thought of Johnson no longer playing in Detroit became clearer.

The star wide receiver issued a statement that he is considering retiring from the National Football League.

“Like many players at this stage of their career, I am currently evaluating my options for my future,” Johnson, 30, said in the statement. “I would expect to have a decision regarding this matter in the not-too-distant future.”

At face value, Johnson’s words lead many to believe that there is still a chance he comes back for his 10th season.

Beneath the surface, the 6-foot, 5-inch “Megatron” is already out the door.
“Black Monday” is the day NFL players whose teams have not reached the playoffs pack up their lockers and head home for the offseason.

So while the Detroit Lions participated in the event for the umpteenth time this season, someone had to ask Johnson if he thought about retiring.

It is apparent his immediate answer was not a resounding “no.” With that in mind, I say he’s gone.

Thanks for everything, Calvin Johnson.

A couple years ago, at least, the Georgia Tech product was a human highlight reel. He caught nearly everything that came his way, often while being double and triple teamed.

In week 7 of the 2013 season, Johnson leaped higher than three Cincinnati Bengals defenders to grab a touchdown pass in the end zone.

The previous year, Megatron set the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964, surpassing the 1,871 yards Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice set in 1995.

(Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons also passed Jerry Rice this season with 1,871 yards, but Johnson is still the all-time leader.)

Johnson holds many other NFL records too:
• Fastest player to 10,000 receiving yards (115 games).
• Most consecutive games with at least 100 receiving yards (eight).
• Most consecutive games with at least 10 receptions (four).
• Most receiving yards in a four-quarter game (329).

He’s also tied a handful of records as well:
• Most games in a season with 100 receiving yards (11, with Michael Irvin).
• Seasons with 1,600 yards receiving (two, with Torry Holt and Colts’ great Marvin Harrison).
• Most career games with 200 or more receiving yards (five, with Lance Alworth).

These accomplishments don’t scratch the surface of the franchise records he holds — touchdown catches in a season (16), receiving TDs in a career (80) and career receiving yards (11,619).

He currently ranks 27th on the NFL’s all time receiving yards list, and is sixth among active players, behind only Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

He’s the greatest wide receiver in Detroit Lions history.

And he’s basically gone.

It’s a grim reminder of one of the best running backs in NFL history calling it quits 16 years ago.

Barry Sanders.

Prior to the 1999 season, Sanders abruptly retired at a healthy 31 years old. He was second at the time on the career rushing list, his 15,269 yards a mere 1,457 behind then-leader Walter Payton.

Sanders averaged 99.8 yards per game, so barring any injuries he would have surpassed Payton in just 14 more games.

(Emmitt Smith broke Payton’s record in 2002.)

But he walked away, unhappy with some of the moves the Lions had made regarding their roster. Those moves included releasing Pro Bowl offensive lineman Kevin Glover, who was a good friend of Sanders.

Since his retirement, the Lions have not had a stable running back. Only three times has Detroit had a rusher eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in a season — James Stewart (1,184) in 2002, Kevin Jones (1,133) in 2004 and Reggie Bush (1,006) in 2013. Sanders never rushed for fewer than 1,115 yards in a season, and his most was 2,053 in 1997. It ranks fourth all time.

Detroit has already had one of the greatest running backs in the game, and some can argue —myself included — that Johnson ranks as one of the best wide receivers to wear the NFL shield.

It’s just a shame that he has likely worn it for the last time.

Thanks for everything, Calvin Johnson.

[edit (3/8/2016): Calvin Johnson officially announced his retirement.]


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