Rumors have been around, but recent sources suggest that 2015 is Johnson's last season in the NFL. Can the Lions replace him and be competitive against the NFL odds if he retires?
Shortly after the season ended for the Lions, Johnson released a statement through the team that said, “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.”
Megatron has his reasons, but it's important to signal that his potential retirement has nothing to do with his career running its natural course.
If Johnson walks away after just nine seasons in the NFL, he'll do so without experiencing a Super Bowl or even a playoff win. Had he accomplished at least one of those in his amazing career, he wouldn't be considering retirement right now.
Remember that Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders also retired from the league after just nine years, and how can you blame him? It's not easy to lose year in and year out while you pay a physical price and not have any hope of even advancing in the playoffs, much less win a Super Bowl.
Will Megatron Walk Away?
The star wide receiver has not spoken publicly about these rumors, but former teammates say that his desire to retire has to do with preserving his physical well-being after taking so many hits.
Johnson, who is 6-feet-5 tall and weighs 237 pounds has been a physically dominant wide receiver since the Lions made him the second pick of the 2007 draft and he has taken more of a pounding than most players at his position, facing aggressive play while running down the field for long pass routes and at the line of scrimmage and taking big hits while going to the ground.
In recent years, Johnson has constantly been on the Lions' injury report with knee, finger and ankle ailments, so it can't be denied that his body has taken too much punishment.
Still, you can't separate health concerns from the business of football. When your team is winning, it can cover things. Sure, it won't heal any injuries or make things better, but it can help players deal with certain situations better because they'll no longer have the stress of losing. Seeing the Lions not enjoy a lot of team success has been a grind, but he loves his team as much as Barry Sanders did that he can't see himself playing for another organization.
Projected Numbers if Johnson Doesn't Retire
Megatron has caught 731 passes for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns in 135 career games. His career line might not seem so impressive, but his per-game averages put him into some elite company. Johnson has averaged 5.4 receptions, 86.1 yards and 0.6 touchdowns per game in his career while Jerry Rice, who holds many records for wide receivers, averaged 5.1 receptions, 75.6 yards and 0.7 touchdowns.
Johnson played in all 16 games last season and hauled in 88 receptions for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns. It was Johnson's sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season and the seventh of his career.
He had his best year in 2012, when he set the NFL single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards and he is the Lions' all-time franchise leader in receptions (731) and receiving yards (11,619).
The Lions have made the playoffs with Johnson twice, but they have posted losing records in the other seven seasons, including a 7-9 mark last season.
Johnson’s numbers over nine years project him to be the fifth-most productive among active wide receivers age 25 and older, as seen in the following table from FiveThirtyEight:
The Lions will have to replace Johnson's team-high nine touchdowns and 1,214 receiving yards from last season if they want to be a competitive team with betting value for our NFL picks. According to the Westgate Las Vegas, the Lions are currently at +4000 NFL odds to win Super Bowl LI and at +2000 to win the NFC.
Here are three players they should consider if Megatron retires:
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
Jeffery is widely considered the best free agent wide receiver. He’s a big and physical players but injuries have plagued him throughout his four-year career. He’ll likely stay with the Bears, but the Lions could use some of the salary cap savings from Johnson to try to sign him.
Kamar Aiken, Baltimore Ravens
Aiken is coming off a breakout season, catching 75 passes for 944 yards while emerging as the No. 1 wide receiver for the Ravens with Steve Smith Sr. injured. Aiken, a restricted free agent, has ties to both Lions general manager Bob Quinn (he was with the Patriots in 2012-13) and coach Jim Caldwell (who was the offensive coordinator for the Ravens in 2013).
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Treadwell is one of the top wide receivers in the NFL draft. He might not be in the same class as Bills standout Sammy Watkins, but at 6-feet-2 and 210 pounds, his big body can help him become a downfield threat.