DETROIT – Most Around NFL America will be shocked. But not Detroit Lions’ fans.
On Sunday, All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson might have played his last game at Ford Field in a Lions’ uniform.
It sounds crazy, almost blasphemy. After all, Johnson has been the Lions’ best player for nearly a decade. He has thrilled fans with his catches and touchdowns. Many times his play was the lone bright spot on a given Sunday afternoon for a sad sack organization that has lost a lot more than it has won.
But the time has come to stop the status quo and make bold changes. Joe Montana finished his career in Kansas City. Peyton Manning was sent packing from Indianapolis and even Brett Favre was bounced from Green Bay.
Good teams know when to say goodbye to a star player and that time has come in Motown for Johnson.
In the Lions’ 32-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Johnson had six receptions for 77 yards.
It was a good day, but not spectacular. That’s Johnson these days – just good. Still, fans cheered their heads off for Johnson as if they knew there was a real possibility that it was his last game in a Lions’ uniform.
“It wasn’t on my mind,” Johnson said. “Can’t help but think about everybody talking about it, but it wasn’t anything I was thinking about going into the game.”
Coach Jim Caldwell, whose future is up in the air as well, offered little about Johnson’s situation.
“I don’t anticipate it’s going to be anything other than what it’s been,” Caldwell said. “That he’s here, he’s been a great Lion and does a tremendous job. That’s what I expect and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
“You guys are expecting me to talk into the future, I don’t even have my boss yet.”
And that new boss, in the form of a new general manager, is coming after the season and it would seem crazy to believe he will keep things the same when he gets here. If he does, you’d have to wonder why they needed him if everything is already in a good place.
Enter Johnson’s case.
Basically, if the Lions are to get better, they probably have to do it without Johnson, their $24-million receiver.
It’s not that Johnson can’t play or is a bum. But at 30 years old, lowered production and his price tag, Johnson simply is too expensive to keep. The Lions, who have now lost nine or more games for the 13th time since 2000, could use all that cash to pick up two or three players that could help fill other holes they have on their roster.
Over the last 16 seasons, the Lions have made the playoffs just twice and are in desperate need of an overhaul. Caldwell and his coaches need to go. Better yet, it’s time to move on from quarterback Matthew Stafford and Johnson too.
And while management changes are obvious – owner Martha Ford fired president Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew at the halfway point – the next regime has to go further and be willing to change the players that actually play, starting at the top.
For sure, it will be hard to part with Stafford and Johnson. Both have given Lions fans thrills for years; but sadly, most of the moments didn’t translate into victories. All those record-breaking stats the pair has stockpiled seem empty because the duo wasn’t able to muster a single playoff victory. The franchise has just one since 1957.
Stafford and Johnson were supposed to change things. Plain and simple, neither have.
The Lions will probably finish in last place in the NFC North with them this season. Next season, they can also finish in last place without them.
The Lions aren’t losing because of bad luck or some dumb curse.
It’s really simple. Ownership has hired the wrong executives, including Matt Millen – arguably the worst GM in the history of pro sports. The Fords have hired eight coaches since 2000, none of them panning out.
The time has come to cut ties with Johnson, a real signal that the Lions are serious about transforming the culture and direction in Motown.