Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson retired in the offseason after just nine NFL seasons and while seemingly at the top of his game. Commenting on Megatron's decision, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford seemed to understand his choice.
While speaking with reporters in Georgia on Friday, Stafford said the wear and tear of pro football ultimately caught up with arguably the greatest receiver of this generation, per the Georgia Bulldogs' official website (h/t Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press):
Not to say that I expected it, but I wasn't shocked. 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.
The Lions duo brought football back to relevancy in the Motor City with a pair of playoff appearances, bringing the fanbase optimism that the Lions could be consistent contenders.
As Birkett noted, from 2007 to 2015, Johnson was the league leader in total receiving yards—in part because of his chemistry with Stafford—and the two helped each other set records.
In 2011, Stafford became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season, joining Dan Marino, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Brees and Brady also accomplished the feat in the same year.
A year later, Johnson set the NFL record for the most receiving yards in a season with 1,964, surpassing Jerry Rice's previous record of 1,848 by a comfortable margin.
On the heels of a 7-9 campaign, Stafford will now look to inject life into an offense that ranked 20th in total yards and 18th in scoring last year.
The 28-year-old signal-caller knows his offense will look different without his top target, but the former Bulldogs star has confidence in the current personnel:
It'll look different, obviously. [Johnson] was a player that drew a bunch of attention, not only in the red zone but all over the field. He was a guy that led that receiver group, showed those guys what it was like to work and what it was like to try and dominate a game, take over a game. We have obviously replaced with some pieces. No one player is going to replace a guy like that, but I'm confident in our coaches and our players that we have on our team, we're going to be fine.
Stafford and the Lions will have a huge hill to climb if they hope to contend this year.
If Detroit still believes Stafford is the quarterback who can lead it to postseason prominence, it will need to hope the additions of Marvin Jones and Jeremy Kerley, as well as the return of Golden Tate, will help fill the massive void Johnson has left.