Moore: Lions will struggle if Johnson retires

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

San Francisco — Despite the abrupt retirement of Barry Sanders in the summer of 1999, the Lions still went to the playoffs in the first season without the Hall of Fame running back.

Herman Moore was on that team and thinks the Lions had enough talent to overcome the loss of Sanders. If Calvin Johnson retires, though, Moore thinks the Lions would struggle without the star receiver.

“Right now, I don’t think the team has enough talent and enough players to all of a sudden make up overnight the loss of a guy like Calvin Johnson,” Moore said Wednesday at the Super Bowl’s radio row while promoting Quick Lane Tire and Auto Center. “I think that you could look at even DeAndre Levy. How tough was it to all of a sudden make up the loss of a Pro Bowl (level) linebacker? Now, you’re talking about a guy that represents quite a bit of your offense, especially the fear factor.”

The Lions hardly replicated Sanders’ production in 1999. In 1998, he had 1,491 rushing yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. In 1999, the Lions combined for just 1,245 rushing yards and a 3.5-yard average.

But, wide receiver Germane Crowell, a second-round pick in 1998, made significant strides in his second season, finishing with 81 catches for 1,338 yards. Fellow receiver Johnnie Morton added 80 catches for 1,129 yards, and tight end David Sloan set career highs with 47 catches for 591 yards.

“It wasn’t tough mentally because it is a team sport,” Moore said of losing Sanders. “You have to have the other guys pick up the pieces. … If everyone contributes a little more, then it allows you to not necessarily make up for it, but at least allows you to soften the blow.”

Fortunately for the Lions, it seems Johnson’s decision will come before the draft this year, unlike when Sanders announced his retirement before training camp. However, Moore said the Lions probably would’ve been looking for another receiver already, and with holes on the offensive line, defensive line and at linebacker, it’ll be hard to contribute enough resources to replacing Johnson, if necessary.

Moore said he hasn’t spoken to Johnson recently, but from what he can tell, the decision-making process is different from Sanders. The running back lost the passion for the game after a 5-11 finish in 1998, but Johnson is thinking more about his health.

“We saw it with Barry because we knew going into the offseason that he was not very happy with the way that the season ended and then he was contemplating maybe moving on and doing something else,” Moore said.

Moore isn’t surprised Johnson is considering retiring, and even though Johnson wasn’t as good in 2015 as past years, Moore thinks he has more to give.

“I still think he’s one of the best receivers in the NFL, and he’s still a No. 1 guy,” he said.