Ex-pros: Longevity will factor in Johnson's bid for Hall

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

San Francisco — A month ago, this wouldn’t have been a debate, assuming Calvin Johnson would play a couple more years and add to his gaudy numbers.

But, with the Lions star wide receiver considering retirement after just nine seasons, he’s no longer the lock to be a first-ballot addition to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Many former and current players think Johnson has already done enough to be enshrined eventually, but longevity often plays a factor in players making the Hall of Fame. Considering there’s a debate over whether or not Terrell Owens is worthy of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, despite ranking second all-time in receiving yards, it would seem Johnson faces an uphill battle to be in that prestigious group.

“I’m big on, not longevity, but when the guy plays, how dominant was he?” Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe said Wednesday at the Super Bowl’s radio row. And he was one of the dominant players at his position, so I think so. … But knowing the way they vote, I don’t know if they’ll put him in on the first ballot.

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson

Moore: Lions will struggle if Johnson retires

“Because if you look at T.O.’s numbers, and they’re still talking about not on the first ballot — if T.O.’s not a first ballot, they need to do away with the first ballot.”

Of the most recent wide receivers to earn enshrinement, Tim Brown played 17 seasons and Andre Reed and Cris Carter each played 16. None of them made it on the first ballot.

Without seeing Johnson’s statistics, Brown declined to say if Johnson was worthy of making the Hall of Fame.

“I have no idea where his numbers are, but certainly his impact on the game has been great,” Brown said at the Super Bowl’s radio row Wednesday while promoting the Kay Jewelers Ring of Excellence.

Ultimately, if Johnson retires before the 2016 season, Hall of Fame voters will have to determine how much impact he had on the game in his nine seasons.

Currently, Johnson ranks 27th in career receiving yards, 43rd in career receptions and 22nd in receiving touchdowns.

His best accomplishment was setting the single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards in 2012, and he’s currently second behind only Atlanta’s Julio Jones in career yards per game with 86.1.

But, in an era when passing numbers ballooned to unprecedented marks, it’s hard to measure how Johnson compares to past dominant receivers.

Barry Sanders was a first-ballot Hall of Famer after just 10 seasons, but he had an NFL MVP award and was a first-team All-Pro six times compared to Johnson’s three times.

“If your stats prove you’re good and you’re Hall of Fame worthy, then you should be in the Hall of Fame,” former Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “Years shouldn’t have nothing to do with it.”

Of course, Taylor noted that players like safeties Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, who each played 12 seasons, seem more worthy of the first-ballot honor.

Meanwhile, cornerback Charles Tillman, now on the Panthers after 12 years with the Bears, said he’d “for sure” vote Johnson in on the first ballot, but former Lions receiver Herman Moore said he’d let in some other players before giving Johnson the honor.

“I think you have to look and have respect for the guys that did play longer and I think have statistically produced more,” Moore said. “Unfortunately, it muddles the water when you start awarding guys based on the potential of what they could’ve done if they continued versus those that fought it out and continued to do that.”