Jim Schwartz on Calvin Johnson: 'We certainly want to do what's in his best, long-term interest because those are also in our best, long-term interests.' (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park – The general feeling is that Calvin Johnson's knee issues are a short-term nuisance. That's what he's said Sunday and that's what the team is saying.
But it's getting harder to ignore the elephant in the room.
"We signed him to a long-term contract," coach Jim Schwartz said Monday. "We certainly want to do what’s in his best, long-term interest because those are also in our best, long-term interests."
The Lions gave Johnson a seven-year extension worth $132 million in March 2012. He's 28 and Sunday was just the fifth game that he's missed in six-plus seasons.
But he battled through knee soreness most of last season. He battled knee soreness through training camp. He played in just two offensive series in the exhibition season. Then he injured his left knee against Chicago and he couldn't get it ready in time to play Sunday.
"We’ll see where he gets this week," Schwartz said. "He’s improving every day and if we can get him back, that’ll be a big bonus for us for sure."
Johnson has not had major surgery on his knees. Thus far, there hasn't been any talk of surgery being considered on this injury. But that is the prevailing worry.
"We’re not going to put him in danger," Schwartz said. "I think those questions might be a little more relevant if we had played him in this game. He wasn’t ready to go, so he sat down and the next guy went up."
Schwartz reiterated what he said after the game, that Johnson's absence didn't cost the Lions the game. The game was lost due to poor execution by the players who did play. He made it clear the team would not be taking any shortcuts to rush Johnson back onto the field.
"We’re certainly long-term on him," Schwartz said. "We’re going to do whatever we can to put the best team on the field every week. We’re not going to have any of our players sit out just to sit them out.
"If they’re capable of playing, we’ll get them out there."
Schwartz said, along those same lines, that he never considered playing Johnson just to use him as a decoy.
"If he’s not healthy enough to play, we are certainly not going to put a player out there to decoy," he said. "I mean, what’s he going to do, just line up and put his hand up in the air? He still has to run routes, be an option for the quarterback and have the potential to be able to take hits.
"That wasn’t an option at all."
Monday was an off-day for the players, though presumably Johnson took treatment on his knee. The team will have a light workout Tuesday and a full practice Wednesday. Schwartz wouldn't venture a guess on how much Johnson will be able to do.
"I really don’t have any anticipation," he said. "We will just take it and see how it comes. We’ve been through that before with him. He set an NFL record last year and he had limited practice time for a significant portion of that. We will take it as it comes.
"If he can get out on the practice field, that’s great, and if he can’t then we’ll wait until the next day.”