Futures of Lions' Stafford, Johnson could be linked
Last week’s front office purge left two of the Lions’ most prominent players in football limbo, but neither Matthew Stafford nor Calvin Johnson said they’re worried about what the upheaval means for their future.
“I don’t think too much about it, honestly,” Stafford said. “My job is to play as well as I can on Sundays. If I’m sitting here worrying about something else, I’m doing a disservice to the other 50 guys in that locker room getting ready to play on Sunday. So I just put my nose to the grindstone and go.”
Stafford, the first overall pick of the 2009 draft, and Johnson, the second overall selection in 2007, have been cornerstone players for the Lions since their arrivals in Detroit.
But a week after the team fired general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand, no one can say for certain if they’ll be back in 2016.
Stafford has two more years left on the extension he signed three summers ago, but the Lions can get out of the deal for a modest cap hit of $11 million should they so choose this off-season.
Stafford’s play has regressed this fall — he’s third in the NFL with 11 interceptions — and the Lions, with a league-worst 1-7 record, might be in a position to draft his replacement early in the first round.
“I’m here,” Stafford said. “I’ve got a couple years left on my contract. Hope I get the chance to play them out. Hope I’m here for a long time. Just, that stuff’s not up to me. And if I worry about stuff that I can’t control I’m doing a disservice to not only myself, but the guys in that locker room. So the only thing I can control is playing as good of football as I possibly can and trying to help our team win. Whatever happens after that happens.”
Johnson, who at 30 is three years older than Stafford, is in an even more precarious position as he wraps up his ninth season in the NFL.
One of the league’s best receivers for most of his career, injuries and the Lions’ struggling offense have turned Johnson into a highly paid possession receiver. He leads the team with 48 catches for 659 yards, but is averaging a career-low 13.7 yards per catch.
Next year, Johnson is set to make $15.95 in base salary with a hefty $24 million cap hit. He would cost $12.9 million against the cap if he’s released. Johnson, the Lions’ all-time leading receiver, was asked Wednesday if he’d want to remain with the Lions next year if they embarked on another rebuild.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” Johnson said. “Like I said, I don’t think about what could happen. I’m just ... During the season, we got to take everything like it’s right here, right now. I don’t think too far ahead. Focus on what I’ve got this week and keep it moving like that during the season.”
Ultimately, the Lions’ next general manager will have to decide what to do with Stafford and Johnson, and the pair’s future in Detroit seems somewhat linked. If the Lions decide to start anew at quarterback, for instance, it might not make sense to keep a receiver with one of the highest cap figures in the league.
Johnson ultimately could restructure his deal to extend his time in Detroit, while Stafford’s contract situation could expedite his way out of town. While most of the questions about Stafford’s future have revolved around his uneven play, the Lions have at most two years to decide whether to sign their quarterback to another long-term extension that could reach nine figures. If the new GM is reluctant to do that, drafting a replacement might be even more of a possibility.
Johnson said he was caught off guard by last week’s firings.
“We can win,” he said. “We’ve shown that we can win, but it just takes a lot of consistency. There’s little minute things here and there than can determine those outcomes in games or personnel-wise or whatever.”
Up next for the Lions
Matchup: Lions (1-7) at Green Bay (6-2).
When: 1 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
TV: Fox (Channel 2 in Detroit).
Line: Packers by 11 1/2.