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Sports & Fitness // Hot Air
Steve Murray

Lions Go Deep To Sign Johnson

With a seven year extension worth $132 million, Mr. Johnson’s neighborhood just got a lot nicer, and so did the woeful Lions’ chances of being, well, not so woeful. They still have several holes, offensive line, line-backer, defensive secondary – you get the idea. But getting the ball downfield won’t be a problem with their pitcher and catcher secured under contract for at least the next three years. How long it will take the club to shore up its other problem areas remains to be seen, but for the first time in decades that answer can be in the positive.

Mr. Johnson – Calvin – called the contract a blessing. That’s an understatement. He is now the highest-paid non-quarterback in the league with a record $60 million in guaranteed money. That’s a lot of cash in a bad economy, but it’s not as extreme as one might think. The Lions saved money by moving early to avoid the bidding war that surely would have come. Plus, the present value of the deal is only $100.7 million, figured with a discount rate of 4 percent. Since Johnson has a year left on his current deal, the current value drops to just over $97 million. Who said there are no bargains to be had?

The early move also shaves $9 million off the club’s salary cap, which matches well with Ndamukong Suh’s restructured deal that was completed two weeks ago. Suddenly the Lions have money to spend and executives that know buying in bulk – aka continuously drafting bad wide receivers – isn’t always the best solution.

Johnson was just evil this past season with 95 receptions, 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns. As scary as that is, his production can get better. Johnson is 6 inches taller and some 40 pounds heavier than any overmatched defensive burdened with coverage duty. Put him in the slot against a linebacker and that’s just cruel and unusual punishment. As the original Megatron said, “Lesser creatures are the playthings of my will.”

Johnson was double-teamed nearly every time he lined up wide, and he still dominated. If Titus Young can develop into a consistent second receiving option, and if the Lions can find a healthy solution at running back – Jahvid Best was their leading rusher with 390 yards – Johnson could make a serious run at being the first player in league history to top 2,000 receiving yards. Jerry Rice leads that category with 1,848 yards in 1995.

As important as Johnson’s signing was, the deal brings with it another, non-sport specific benefit, evidence that Detroit is a viable career option. The Motor City, for all its grooving musical muscle, is just not a free agency destination. It doesn’t have the media impact of New York, the Hollywood access of L.A. or the Miami social scene. Unless you play hockey, where the lure of a Stanley Cup and the flat suburbs of Oakland County are reminiscent of the Canadian homeland, the city traditionally has held little attraction for the big money set. No, Prince Fielder doesn’t count – the Tigers were seemingly, and surprisingly, the only team willing to spend a crazy amount of cash on a guy who could single-handedly take down any number of Hamtramck Polish delis.

The biggest cheerleader for this deal outside of Detroit was Adrian Peterson, who tweeted, “Calvin Johnson! Brother you’re worth every cent!!!” Or maybe it’s Saints quarterback Drew Brees. New Orleans wants to slap a franchise tag on its quarterback at a rate of $15 million to $16 million. That’s not bad, but a bit insulting when wide receivers are getting $18 million and more. If the traditional QB markup remains in effect, there may be little the Saints can do but pay Brees the $23 million he is asking for.

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