Over the past few weeks I’ve been having a few mini-rants on twitter over this, and though I do not have a ton of time, I decided to finally sit there and write this all out. As quickly and as concisely as possible. I’m probably going to be one of the few that truly believes this, but trading Calvin Johnson does absolutely nothing for the Detroit Lions. Free up $12 million by trading him or $16 million by cutting him? Sure, that’s nice…but you’re not going to get much in return if you trade him because of his contract. If you cut him you have $8 million left on your cap hit. But, when you are going to have $23+ million free going into next summer and will have another $12 million free when you cut Stephen Tulloch, Don Carey and Brandon Pettigrew, is that necessary? No.
Read that again and let it sink in.
The Lions could have $35 million free to spend in free agency WITHOUT cutting Calvin Johnson or Matthew Stafford. So riddle me this, what the hell would be the point of cutting one of the best receivers of all time to free up $16 million? Who are you possibly going to sign with that $51 million in free cap that can make up for his production. No seriously, look at the free agent class for next year. When is the last time a major free agency contract worked out? Look at the Dolphins any of the last 3+ years. How’s that 5-year $26 million contract that Philip Wheeler signed in 2013 going? I’ll save you the trouble of googling it, he’s in Atlanta now after getting cut by the Dolphins AND 49ers. Well what about Mike Wallace, who they signed to a 5-year $60 million deal in 2013?? He got traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a 7th rounder. Look at Byron Maxwell, who signed a 6-year $63 million deal with the Eagles and now spends his free time getting torched. Big money free agent contracts just do not work out. I promise.
$35 million + Calvin Johnson, $47 million + some garbage draft pick or $51 million and you watch Calvin dominate on another team. Which sounds better? And yes, the Lions free up less money trading Calvin Johnson than they do if they straight up cut him. You win by building through the draft and hitting on early draft picks. Not trading one of the greatest wide receivers of all time for a special teams gunner that will probably get cut in three years or less, or giving yourself more money to make some stupid mistakes with that will set you back even further. The reason this team is struggling is because there are ZERO players left on the roster from their 2010 AND 2011 Drafts. That is brutal.
I mean, holy crap is anyone listening? How are you going to possibly replace this production? Every NFL media member is churning out an article almost weekly on why the Lions need to dump Calvin Johnson and I’m losing my mind. He is having a down year and is still 11th in the league in receiving yards and has fewer receptions than everyone in front of him.
If you cut Calvin Johnson, your receiving core gets absolutely gutted. So what are you going to do with that mid-round pick? Draft a wide receiver and hope he becomes Antonio Brown? The odds of that happening are astronomical. What are you going to do with that extra $16 million if you cut him? Throw it at Michael Crabtree or Reuben Randle or Travis Benjamin? I would say Alshon Jeffery, but I just do not see any scenario where the Bears let him walk when they’re going to let Matt Forte walk. If they do, then they are more inept than I thought. Do you really want Matthew Stafford running an offense that does not have Calvin Johnson as a part of it?
Cutting Stafford is not an option either. Monetarily, it can be done, but this team has a two-year window to try to make something happen. If it has not worked out, then you let Stafford walk for free and go on to become a superstar in Dallas and then cry yourself to sleep. But at least you can take some solace knowing that you did not trade him away too soon. He’s only 27 for Christ’s sake. The options to replace him right now are absolutely laughable and anyone telling you otherwise does not actually know anything about the game of football and should be disregarded.
Yes, the Lions do have needs. Based on my calculations, they need about 5 players on defense and 4 on offense. They’ll need to replace Jason Jones, Stephen Tulloch, Travis Lewis, Rashean Mathis and James Ihedigbo. On offense, they need a backup QB (Draft), another WR, another TE, another OT (Draft). That’s really not that many needs…it would be a total of 11 if they decide to let Tyrunn Walker and Haloti Ngata leave. But the bottom line is, between the NFL Draft and the $35 million, they can very easily fill those needs. If they’re spending more than an average of $3.5 million per guy including the prospects they draft, then they are doing things very wrong.
But seriously, two years. That’s all I’m asking. Try and turn it around and if it does not work, then you let Stafford walk for free and trade Calvin for a mid-round pick. Or you cut him. He’ll be 32 at that point and you’ll have to go into full rebuild mode if you dump Stafford anyways.
The most important reason not to cut Stafford and Calvin though, outside of still trying to make the playoffs, is that you can’t afford to take a rookie quarterback in round 1. He would get the full David Carr experience if that happened. The offensive line is terrible and the run game does not exist. If you cut Stafford and trade Calvin and then draft a quarterback in round 1, you might as well go sit on the blade of a shovel. Your quarterback will only have Golden Tate to throw too, no run game and no pass protection. He would get knocked around so much that he would lose confidence, his mechanics would break down and his career would be ruined before it started. For those of you that do not remember Carr very well, just think of Devin Gardner. Same thing.
This rebuild on the fly gives you two years after this one to try to win, and if it does not work, you will presumably have 3 straight years of high draft picks to try to rebuild this franchise. A player like Robert Nkemdiche, Joey Bosa or Laremy Tunsil in this next draft does INFINITELY more for this franchise than cutting Stafford and/or Calvin and drafting Jared Goff or Connor Cook would ever do. Both Goff and Cook would be destined for failure on this Lions team before they even get a fair chance to start. Quite frankly, I think drafting one of those 3 players would be better for this franchise even if they needed a quarterback.
Here are the 5 steps to fix the Lions:
Step 1: You watch the Salary Cap go up to $155 million and say thank you for the $23 million in cap space.
Step 2: You KEEP Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford.
Step 3: You cut Stephen Tulloch, Don Carey, Joique Bell and Brandon Pettigrew and free up an additional $12 million.
Step 4: You re-sign Haloti Ngata, Tyrunn Walker, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Tahir Whitehead and look at a few free agents to add depth.
Step 5: Draft well. You draft one of Robert Nkemdiche, Joey Bosa or Laremy Tunsil in the first round and you work on rebuilding on the fly. It’s a simple solution. What would an ideal draft look like?
1st Round: Laremy Tunsil, LT, Ole Miss
2nd Round: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
3rd Round (Compensatory Pick): Anthony Zettel, DE/DT, Penn State
4th Round: Nate Sudfield, QB, Indiana
5th Round: Jake McGee, TE, Florida
5th Round (Compensatory Pick): Aaron Burbridge, WR, Michigan State
5th Round (Compensatory Pick): Terrance Smith, LB, FSU
6th Round: Aaron Green, RB, TCU
6th Round: Blake Countess, CB, Auburn
7th Round: Matt Hegarty, C/G, Oregon
Now, who knows how the Draft will play out once guys attend the Combine and All-Star Games and have their Pro Days, but this at least gives you an idea of how they could fill needs. Getting a QB like Nate Sudfield or Christian Hackenberg gives you a young player to develop behind Stafford. (Too bad the Lions traded their 3rd rounder to get Gabe Wright last year because that’s going to be a high pick)
And if it does not work out, in two years you do a hard reset. You let Stafford walk for nothing, you trade Calvin for nothing, you draft yourself a good Jewish Boy like Josh Rosen to be your quarterback and you figure out what other pieces you need to add. What is another two years anyways at this point? Might as well try to win one now before the window totally closes. I promise that trading Calvin and Stafford now will set the franchise back further than anyone possibly thinks. And I’m not just saying this because Calvin is one of my favorite football players of all time, I’m saying this because I truly believe it.
So seriously, stop trying to make this happen. Hopefully the next Lions GM agrees with me, you should too.