Calvin Johnson

Extra Points: Matthews, Megatron, Wheaton

Although the Eagles dealt Jordan Matthews rather than make him part of their large recent group of extension signees, Howie Roseman said the trade wouldn’t preclude the team from re-signing Matthews as a free agent, Eliot Shorr-Parks tweets. Whether Matthews would consider a return to Philadelphia after this is another story. The Bills wideout is one of many notable receivers entering contract years. He joins fellow Friday traded pass-catcher Sammy Watkins, along with DeAndre Hopkins and fellow 2014 draftees Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Donte Moncrief as a prospective UFA.

The Bills have a revamped wide receiver corps, having traded Watkins and observed Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin leave in free agency, so it would stand to reason they’d want to keep Matthews past 2017. But the acquisitions of Matthews and E.J. Gaines may have been secondary to the second- and third-round draft choices received, so Buffalo’s strategy with the newly acquired players will be interesting.

Here’s the latest from around the league as preseason’s first week wraps up.

  • Teams have reportedly attempted to lure Calvin Johnson out of retirement, but the Lions still have the rights to Megatron if he were to return. But the timing of a Johnson comeback could affect where he’d end up. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes Johnson could put the Lions in a tough spot by notifying the NFL he intends to come back now. Operating under the premise Megatron was retired, the Lions have barely $7MM in cap space. Florio posits a Johnson comeback could get him to free agency — and teams he may believe have a better shot at contention — since his $16MM salary would hit the Lions’ payroll and force the team to act quickly to get in line with the cap. A trade or release would get Johnson out of Detroit, something he may not mind in a comeback scenario given the comments he made this offseason. The potential Hall of Famer turns 32 in September.
  • This probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but it appears Patrick Mahomes has leapfrogged Tyler Bray on the Chiefs‘ depth chart after their first preseason game, Adam Teicher of ESPN.com reports. Despite the rare first-round investment from a franchise that spent a generation signing free agent quarterbacks or trading for them, the Chiefs first installed Mahomes as their third-stringer to start camp.
  • Injuries are again affecting Markus Wheaton‘s status. The Bears wideout missed over a week of camp because of an emergency appendectomy and didn’t return until Saturday, but the fifth-year pass-catcher now has a broken pinkie finger sidelining him, Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com reports. John Fox doesn’t have a return timetable for Wheaton. The Bears signed three veteran wideouts to one-year deals, but Wheaton received more of a commitment than Kendall Wright or Victor Cruz. Wheaton is guaranteed $6MM in 2017 as part of his two-year contract. Dickerson adds the Bears still envision a large role for Wheaton, who missed 13 games last season due to a shoulder injury.
  • The Jets drafted safeties with their first two picks, leading to a shakeup this offseason. But one of their second-stringers may not be playing for them for a while — if at all — in 2017. Second-year safety Doug Middleton is expected to undergo surgery after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in Gang Green’s first preseason game, Manish Mehta and Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News report. Middleton and Rontez Miles were running with the Jets’ second team behind Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. An ex-UDFA, Middleton will seek a second opinion, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post (on Twitter). The Jets signed safety Robenson Therezie earlier Sunday, a sign they believe they may be a man short going forward.

Teams Pursuing Calvin Johnson

Calvin Johnson says he’s done with football, but that’s not stopping teams from going after the wide receiver. At least six teams have reached out to Megatron to gauge his interest in a return to the field, but so far Johnson has said no, sources tell Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report. Calvin Johnson (vertical)

[RELATED: Did Lions’ Losing Pushed Johnson Towards Retirement?]

Freeman’s report does not list specific teams, but one has to imagine that there’s some overlap between this list of six mystery teams and the clubs that Johnson has visited this offseason. Over the past few months, Johnson has served as a guest coach/lecturer with the Dolphins and Raiders. He has not stopped in to see the Lions, however.

If Johnson has a change of heart and decides to return, any team looking to sign him will have to go through the Lions since they still hold his rights. Still, we know that it’s not an impossible hurdle since the Raiders were able to work out a trade with the Seahawks for the previously retired Marshawn Lynch.

In 2015, his last season on the field, Johnson had 88 catches for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns. His performance earned him his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl nod.

Megatron will celebrate his 32nd birthday in September.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Johnson, Lions, Browns, Ravens

Former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has hinted that Detroit’s long string of failure played a role in his retirement, and he reiterated that sentiment last week, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press“I was stuck in my contract with Detroit, and they told me, they would not release my contract, so I would have to come back to them,” Johnson said. “I didn’t see the chance for them to win a Super Bowl at the time, and for the work I was putting in, it wasn’t worth my time to keep on beating my head against the wall … and not going anywhere.”

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk details, the Lions and new general manager Bob Quinn may have misled Johnson into thinking he’d be forced to stick with Detroit in 2016. While Johnson says the Lions wouldn’t have released him from his contract, Detroit almost surely would have had to make some sort of adjustment to Johnson’s cap charge, which would have totaled $24MM. By convincing him to retire, the Lions saved more than $11MM on its 2016 salary cap.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • Hue Jackson is expected to receive a long leash as head coach of the Browns, and likely won’t be fired even if the club struggles again in 2017, writes Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. As I wrote in today’s review of the Browns’ offseason, Cleveland is in the midst of a full-scale rebuild, and the team’s ownership and front office is aware that Jackson isn’t leading a top-notch roster. As Cabot notes, the Browns will likely be starting rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer for the majority of the season, so growing pains are to be expected. While improvement over last year’s 1-15 mark is to be expected, Jackson won’t be blamed if Cleveland doesn’t come near playoff contention.
  • Before opting to sign with the Ravens this spring, safety Tony Jefferson used a creative method to determine if he’d fit with Baltimore’s roster. “I had to personally go on NFL Game Pass and watch tape and film before I made a decision,” said Jefferson, per Max Mayer of NFL.com. “I felt like this defense fits me. I feel like this style fits me. I love to hit, and do that type of stuff. And I think that’s the culture, and that’s what I want to be a part of.” Jefferson left Arizona to ink a four-year, $34MM deal with the Ravens, where he’ll team with fellow defensive back Eric Weddle.
  • In case you missed it, PFR’s Zach Links examined the possibility of a deal between the Steelers and franchise-tagged running back Le’Veon Bell. If the two side don’t reach an extension by July 17, Bell will play out the season on a fully guaranteed one-year pact worth $12MM+.

Extra Points: Jets, Kap, OBJ, Megatron

The Jets moved on from linebacker David Harris and wide receiver Eric Decker solely for financial reasons, reports Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Jets owner Woody Johnson, realizing that the team wasn’t going to compete this year even with Harris and Decker, decided it would make more sense to save $13.75MM than spend it on the two veterans. Committing to a rebuild is a commendable approach, writes Mehta, though he questions the way the Jets handled the Harris situation. Jets bigwigs assured Harris back in March that he’d return to the team for an 11th year, but they then approached him about a pay cut 72 hours before releasing him, per Mehta. Johnson’s desire to save money drove that decision, and Harris is now looking for work at a time when free agency has died down. Harris’ agents complained Tuesday that the Jets didn’t just release the defender over the winter, as doing so probably would’ve led to a stronger market for his services.

As for two of Johnson’s highest-ranking employees, general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles, they should be in line to return in 2018 if the rebuilding club’s young players progress this year, writes Mehta. But Brian Costello of the New York Post passes along somewhat different information, relaying that Maccagnan will probably stay on but that “Bowles is viewed as a goner by nearly everyone.” Talent-wise, the deck is stacked against Bowles as he enters his third season with the Jets and the penultimate year of his contract. “They have the worst roster in the league and it’s not close,” one executive told Costello. Harris’ release added another hole to the roster, and his exit hit Bowles “hard,” according to Costello.

  • Colin Kaepernick‘s inability to find a job as a backup quarterback continues to be a popular topic, and one of his friends, Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, weighed in on the matter after Seattle signed Austin Davis instead of Kaepernick. “The organizations, they’re going to be giving the younger guys the first and second look. They know what Colin can do,” Baldwin told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “They know he’s a starter in this league. They’re going to give every opportunity for the young guys to compete, show their talents, and then whatever falls he’ll get his opportunities once all this dust settles.” While many believe Kaepernick is unemployed largely because the then-49er refused to stand for the national anthem last season, Baldwin doesn’t see that as a significant factor. “To some degree, but I think that’s really minor,” Baldwin said. “There are 32 teams out there. Not all of them really care about that. I have no doubt in my mind he’ll have a job here rather quickly.”
  • With one report suggesting that Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. hasn’t attended OTAs because he wants a raise, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk contends that it would likely take a multiyear deal with at least $30MM guaranteed to lock him up. Meanwhile, Steve Serby of the New York Post proposes a six-year, $103.5MM contract – including $47.5MM guaranteed – that would make Beckham the game’s highest-paid wideout.
  • Contrary to a prior report, Calvin Johnson did not repay the Lions $320K of his $3.2MM signing bonus when he retired in March 2016. The former receiver actually forked over a much larger sum, at least $1MM, according to Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.

Extra Points: Megatron, Young, Sam, Jets

Former Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has been observing Raiders practices this week as a guest of offensive coordinator Todd Downing, per Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com. Downing was on Detroit’s staff from 2009-13 – a large portion of Johnson’s career – and while it’s fun to imagine Megatron coming out of retirement to join the Raiders’ high-octane attack, there’s no indication he has any interest in doing so.

More from around the game:

  • Johnson may not be coming out of retirement, but former NFL quarterback Vince Young is returning to the gridiron. Young, who retired in 2014, signed Thursday with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, agent Leigh Steinberg announced (Twitter link). The 34-year-old Young, a former superstar at the University of Texas and the 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Titans, hasn’t attempted a regular-season pass in the professional ranks since he was a member of the Eagles in 2011.
  • An openly gay player has never played a regular-season NFL game, and it’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future, former Eagles/Browns executive and current ESPN analyst Joe Banner told SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this week (via Sporting News’ Alex Marvez). Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is the only openly gay player ever drafted, having gone in the seventh round in 2014, but he encountered a media firestorm during his stints with the Rams and the Cowboys during the preseason that year. The media attention that accompanied his short time in the league has likely made teams “a little more hesitant” to welcome an openly gay player, says Banner. For their part, the Browns didn’t regard Sam’s sexuality as an issue, according to Banner.
  • Collette Smith will become the first woman to ever join the Jets’ coaching staff, reports Leonard Greene of the New York Daily News. Smith, who’s a coach and marketing executive with the New York Sharks of the Independent Women’s Football League, will work as a preseason intern with the Jets’ defensive backs during training camp. “I’m over the top. I’m humbled and I’m proud,” said Smith. “This could have happened with any NFL team. But it just so happened that it was with my beloved New York Jets. This is bigger because of that. God forbid it would have been with the Patriots. But I still would have done it.”
  • Vice president of player personnel Adam Peters was one of the driving forces behind the 49ers’ drafting of former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, writes Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. Before Peters’ hiring in January, general manager John Lynch asked the former Broncos executive whom he’d select with the 49ers’ first-round pick (No. 2 overall). “Without hesitation, he said ‘Reuben Foster,'” stated Lynch. The draft didn’t quite work out the way Peters imagined it then, as the Niners ultimately traded down to third overall and selected ex-Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas with that choice. But San Francisco ended up getting Foster at the end of Round 1, after it moved up to No. 31 overall. “A lot has transpired then and (Peters) loved Solomon Thomas, too, I don’t want to get that mistaken,” said Lynch. “But he was a huge champion of Reuben Foster. Like I said, so much transpired from there to there. But (Peters) was big on that one. I know that.”

NFC Rumors: Megatron, Vikings, Redskins

Calvin Johnson said again Saturday he is not coming back to football, and the potential Hall of Fame wide receiver didn’t like the way his relationship with the Lions concluded when he retired in March 2016.

I just didn’t feel like I was treated the way I should have been treated on the way out. That’s all,” Johnson said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I mean, it’s all good. I’m not tripping. I don’t feel any kind of way, just hey, that’s what they did. Hey, it is what is.”

Johnson declined to go into specifics regarding this. Birkett points out the Lions attempted to recoup some of Megatron’s signing bonus, reporting Johnson paid $320K — one-tenth of the $3.2MM the Lions could have collected under the CBA — when he retired. The parties agreed to a reduced payment last year, Birkett notes. This retirement unfolded smoother than Barry Sanders‘ did in 1999. The Lions filed a grievance against the Hall of Fame running back, and he paid the team back in installments.

Johnson also alluded to a conversation he had with the team regarding the reason he was retiring. Last year, the receiver did say it would have been harder to follow through with the early-retirement plan if the Lions were in a better position to compete. But he maintained this NFL exit centered around his health.

They told me they wouldn’t trade me if I came back and stuff like that, but it wasn’t about that,” Johnson said, via Birkett. “It was about how I felt.”

Here’s the latest from the NFC.

  • Mike Zimmer underwent an eighth right eye operation this week, Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. All of these procedures have occurred since November of last year. The fourth-year Vikings coach said he’s unsure if this will be the last one. Zimmer missed Week 13 of last season due to eye troubles and acknowledges he will experience vision problems in his left eye at some point.
  • Zimmer said the franchise carefully took Michael Floyd‘s off-the-field history into account before signing him. “We always try to weigh every situation, but you know he’s from here. I think he has a good support system with Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph partly,’’ Zimmer said (via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press) of two former Floyd Notre Dame teammates. “So a lot of those things were factored in and entered into it.” A Floyd arrest for a super extreme DUI led to the Cardinals releasing him last season.
  • The Redskins don’t plan to move one of their outside linebackers to defensive end before training camp. The team drafted Ryan Anderson to join a stable of outside ‘backers that includes Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy, Preston Smith and Junior Galette. But none will be tried at 3-4 end, John Keim of ESPN.com reports. Washington may have a crowd here, but it’s not full of reliable players. Murphy will serve a four-game suspension, and Galette hasn’t played since 2014. Free agents Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain preceded Jonathan Allen‘s arrival in what will be a new-look defensive end corps. Washington lost Chris Baker and cut Ricky Jean-Francois this offseason.

Calvin Johnson: “I’m Not Coming Back, Man”

Former Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is enjoying life after football and he won’t be coming back. When asked about the possibility of eventually returning to the NFL, Johnson was clear in his response. Calvin Johnson

[RELATED: Lions CB Darius Slay To Miss Time?]

I’m not coming back, man,” Johnson told ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein. “Look, man. I got stuff that’s going to hurt for the rest of my life. I got a finger that’s literally bone-on-bone. This bad boy, it gets smaller. The more and more I do, it grinds bone-on-bone. Literally from last year, I went this year to get another X-Ray and this is after I retired, I knew it was messed up but I didn’t know to what degree because it was hurt.”

In addition to his mangled finger, Johnson cited his injured ankle, knees, and shoulder as reasons why football is no longer a good idea for him. Besides that, Megatron says he’s happy in retirement and he likes watching football as a spectator on Sundays. He admits that he wishes he could have left the game with a Super Bowl ring, but he won’t return to try and chase that goal.

The Lions, without Johnson, are 9-5 and leading the NFC North with two games to go.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Megatron, NFLPA, Patriots, Raiders

Had the Lions resided in better position within the NFC hierarchy, Calvin Johnson would have been more likely to consider returning. In an admission not unlike the circumstances surrounding Barry Sanders‘ 1999 retirement, Megatron told ESPN’s Michael Smith the Lions’ poor 2015 season and current status didn’t make leaving the game as difficult as it would have if they built on their 2014 playoff season.

If we would’ve been a contender, it would have been harder to let go,” the former three-time All-Pro wide receiver told Smith during an E:60 profile that also delves into the injury issues that led to Johnson stepping away at age 30.

Johnson still amassed 1,214 receiving yards and scored nine touchdowns last year but had to deal with ankle injuries the past two seasons. The potential Hall of Fame wideout also told Smith he’s had “a few” concussions.

The Lions made two playoff berths during Johnson’s nine years, losing in the first round of the 2011 and ’14 NFC brackets. Detroit went 7-9 in ’15, but its 1-7 start effectively dashed any playoff hopes. Johnson retired in March but said in June that while he has no plans to return, such a re-emergence would be with the Lions.

Here’s the latest from around the league.

  • In light of the NBA’s dramatic cap rise generating critiques of the NFLPA’s job during the 2011 lockout, NFL Players Association assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah attempted to clarify some points to Robert Klemko of TheMMQB.com. The union floated the idea of negotiating the removal of the franchise tag but the owners’ concession demands would have been too high for their liking, Klemko writes. “Our system is designed to protect players as much as we can against a short career,” Atallah said. “So things like a higher minimum salary, injury protection, 89% minimum cap spending, post-career benefits that extend into forever. Our system is designed specifically towards the type of employee we have who is at risk of injury. That’s the best argument against comparing us and any sport; we just have a unique employee base.” While it’s difficult to reconcile Mike Conley making more than any NFL player at five years and $153MM fully guaranteed, Atallah pointed out the 53-to-15 roster imbalance between the leagues while emphasizing that the latest CBA stood to reward second- and third-tier players — i.e. Malik Jackson or Olivier Vernon — amid the franchise tag’s continued constraints.
  • It’s been six weeks since the Tom Brady and the NFLPA appealed the federal court ruling that reinstated the Patriots quarterback’s four-game suspension, and despite the second circuit failing to rule in the three- to six-week span expected, Michael McCann of SI.com anticipates Brady’s ban remaining in place. “The most likely verdict is the second circuit will not grant a re-hearing,” McCann said, via WEEI.com. “The second circuit grants re-hearings at less than 1% of the time. The odds are certainly not good for Brady.”
  • Andre Johnson remains interested in continuing his career, posting a video of a recent workout (via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle). The Colts released Johnson after one season in March, and we’ve heard nothing connecting the soon-to-be 35-year-old receiver to any teams at this point. PFR’s Dallas Robinson rated Johnson among his top-10 offensive free agents still available.
  • Although the Raiders ended up with both Khalil Mack and Derek Carr in the 2014 draft, Mark Davis pushed the front office to select Carr with the No. 5 overall pick that became Mack, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk recalls. Carr ended up going at No. 36, with Reggie McKenzie and Co.’s decision allowing them to land one of the game’s best players in Mack.

NFC Notes: Mathieu, Megatron, Saints

Patrick Peterson understands what it takes to negotiate a new contract with the Cardinals. For what it’s worth, the cornerback believes teammate and fellow defensive back Tyrann Mathieu‘s discussions with the organization won’t take particularly long.

“I was in kind of a similar situation when it was time for me to sign a new deal and obviously wanting a new deal,” Peterson said on PFT Live (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com). “Like I tell Tyrann all the time, let his agent handle that and also it’s gonna be a long, drawn out process, you just have to be patient. I know it will happen, just don’t know when it will happen but the Cardinals organization understands what Tyrann means to the football team, to the community, and when you have a top notch player like that, that just doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and we have great ownership upstairs and the General Manager and the president and owner of the team. I mean those guys know at the end of the day what Tyrann means and like I said, I’m quite sure that the deal will get done here pretty soon.”

Reports indicated that the organization was ready to make Mathieu the highest-paid safety in the league, and talks seemed to be progressing. However, earlier this month, negotiations suddenly stalled, but there’s still optimism that a deal could be finalized by training camp.

As we await clarity on the Mathieu/Cardinals negotiations, let’s look at some more NFC notes…

  • Recently-retired wideout Calvin Johnson held his “Catching Dreams” football camp today, and the former Lions star told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (via Twitter) that he won’t be returning to football. “I’m not coming back,” Johnson said (via Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com). “You don’t have to worry about that.” The 30-year-old was clear that if he did return to the NFL, the comeback would be with the Lions.
  • The hiring process for Saints assistant head coach Dan Campbell was more of a “recruitment” than an “interview,” coach Sean Payton told Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. Fortunately, Payton had an edge after having coached Campbell for nearly a decade.
  • Meanwhile, Campbell, the Dolphins‘ interim head coach last season, was lured by the opportunity to work with Payton. “To me, it was a pretty easy sell,” he told Triplett. “And the biggest factor was Coach Payton. I know who he is, I know what he’s about. And hey, man, he’s proven himself as a coach.”

Extra Points: Megatron, Hackenberg, Vikings

NFL fans were a bit surprised when Lions star wideout Calvin Johnson announced that he’d be hanging up his cleats. However, his quarterback could tell that the 30-year-old was growing tired of the game.

“Not to say that I expected it, but I wasn’t shocked,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I’ve known Calvin for seven years and know the effort and the attitude that he plays with, and it takes a toll on people. And he was catching quite a few passes and getting hit quite a bunch, and so it takes a toll. And he’s a guy that from an offensive standpoint was touching the ball or carrying the ball just as much as anybody. So I knew the NFL was kind of wearing on him and I just told him, when he told me he was done, I just told him, ‘I’m happy for you if you’re happy.’ And that’s what you want. He’s a guy that gave everything to the game and you want him to be able to walk out on his own terms and feel like he did the right thing.”

Let’s check out some more notes from around the NFL…

  • “Quality” quarterbacks can be found towards the end of the first round, leading Paola Boivin of AZCentral.com to write that the Cardinals should select a signal-caller with their first selection in this year’s draft. Boivin believes it’s “vital” to have somebody in the wings, regardless of how long Carson Palmer continues to play.
  • Former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg showed flashes of brilliance playing under former coach Bill O’Brien, but he struggled under the guidance of replacement James Franklin. While the connections are undeniable, NFL scouts were still hoping for some accountability from the prospect, something he failed to deliver. Robert Klemko of SI.com writes that Hackenberg blamed his lack of recent success to the change in coaching staffs. “Despite the fact that it’s probably true, you don’t want to hear a kid say that,” one source said.
  • The Vikings next big deal should be locking up safety Harrison Smith to a long-term contract, writes Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune. However, based on recent years, the writer doesn’t believe we’ll see any progress until training camp.