Lions’ Calvin Johnson considers retirement

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Calvin Johnson, one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history, is considering retirement.

The biggest Lions star since Barry Sanders, Johnson will turn 31 next September and has dealt with myriad injuries — ankles, knee and fingers among them in recent years.

He didn’t hint toward the possibility during several interviews about his future in recent weeks, but rumors of his potential retirement have been circulating around the team facility this week.

And on Wednesday, Johnson released a statement through the Lions indicating a decision about his future could come soon.

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

Johnson and his agent, Bus Cook, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“We obviously have profound respect for Calvin and certainly understand and appreciate his decision to give proper thought and consideration to his football future,” the Lions said in a statement.

If Johnson were to retire, it would be reminiscent of Sanders’ leaving the game. Sanders retired after his 31st birthday in July 1999. Sanders played 10 seasons while Johnson has played nine.

“Calvin’s a Lion,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said after the season finale Sunday in Chicago. “In my mind, he’ll be a Lion for life no matter what happens. I’ve been really privileged to play with him. He’s a competitor, a great teammate, obviously a Hall-of-Fame talent. I know he’s been appreciated by our fans and everybody in our locker room as well. Just a whole lot of fun.”

If people were looking, they could’ve found evidence that Johnson was especially emotional in the final two games of 2015. He kept both of his touchdown balls, but shook that off by saying, “I just keep it sometimes; sometimes I don’t.”

Johnson and Stafford shared an embrace on Soldier Field after the Lions beat the Bears, too.

However, if Johnson already has made up his mind, there was no announcement provided to his teammates. Defensive end Darryl Tapp said he hadn’t even heard of the retirement possibility Wednesday afternoon.

“I’d be very surprised,” Tapp said. “He’s only in his ninth year. I’d be very surprised, but at the same time, his body’s taken a whole lot over those nine years.

“Wow, just wow. Hopefully that’s not the case.”

Johnson ranks 27th in NFL history with 11,619 receiving yards. He’s 22nd in receiving touchdowns with 83.

With Johnson set to count $24 million against the salary cap in 2016, including a $16 million base salary, the prevailing theory is that he might have to take a pay cut to stay in Detroit. The Lions could also trade him or keep him on his current salary knowing the cap will increase again this year.

“I don’t have anything to contemplate really,” Johnson said of his future Sunday. “I guess you just wait and see.”

If Johnson retired, he would still count nearly $13 million against the Lions salary cap in 2016. However, the Lions could recoup $3.2 million from the signing bonus on the extension he signed in 2012, but the credit likely wouldn’t reflect on the salary cap until 2017.

Johnson finished the 2015 season with 1,214 receiving yards, ranking 10th in the NFL. He also had 88 receptions and nine touchdowns, but his 13.8-yard average was a career low.

After the Lions won their season finale Sunday, Johnson discussed the possibility of not playing in Detroit, but didn’t mention retirement as a possibility.

“It’s not in my control,” Johnson said. “The only things that I do are in my control. Whatever decision they make, that’s up to them. I’m just going to enjoy this downtime and go from there.”