Barry Sanders: Calvin Johnson retiring would be ‘devastating’ for Lions

By Jesse Reed
Oct 29, 2015; Chandler’s Cross, United Kingdom; Detroit Lions former running back Barry Sanders poses with participants during USA Football Heads Up Football Clinic at the Tottenham Hotspur Training Ground. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In an ironic twist of fate, Barry Sanders laments the potential early exit of Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who is mulling retirement.

If you believe the rumors, Johnson’s decision has already been made. He has reportedly already told his family and the Lions he is not coming back next year. Detroit obviously is hoping he will reconsider and is reportedly up for doing a Larry Fitzgerald-type extension to make it happen.

In San Francisco for the NFL Honors show and Super Bowl 50, Sanders relayed his surprise about the rumors:

“I’m just shocked, man,” Sanders said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “Just shocked. And I feel like a lot of the other Lions fans; we’ll start knocking on his door around June, see if we can give him a nice peaceful off-season. We know he’ll make the right decision, but if he’s going to retire it’ll definitely be a big blow.”

Sanders also said an early exit by Johnson would be “devastating” to the Lions:

“It would certainly be difficult,” he said. “He’s given a lot to this organization and the team and he’s such a great player and one of those guys you just love having in the organization. It would be devastating, no question about it.”

Coming from almost anyone else, these quotes aren’t in the least bit hard to fathom.

However, given the fact that Sanders himself did exactly what Johnson is considering, it’s kind of weird that he’s taking this stance. Sanders left the game in the prime of his career after 10 glorious seasons as the premier running back in the NFL.

He had a legitimate shot to smash records but got tired of playing on a perennial loser, which isn’t much different than the situation Johnson faces today.

Johnson has been on just two winning teams in nine years with Detroit and has never won a playoff game in his career.

Maybe he feels the physical abuse suffered playing football isn’t worth it any more. He’s been beat up pretty badly the past couple of years, dealing with ankle, knee and finger injuries and said after the season, “Like many players at this stage of their career, I am currently evaluating options for my future.”

Perhaps he is angling for a trade. Perhaps he doesn’t want to come back to a re-worked deal and wants the full $24 million due to him, per his contract. Perhaps he really is done.

And irony aside, Sanders speaks for all Lions fans when he says he hopes Johnson comes back next year, and a few years after that.