Matthew Stafford is cautiously preparing for a future without star receiver Calvin Johnson, and Matt Ryan knows a little about moving on after a premier target retires.
Ryan threw passes to Tony Gonzalez — who has the fifth-most receiving yards in league history — for five seasons before the Hall of Fame-bound tight end hung up his cleats, but the Atlanta Falcons quarterback has performed well enough since then.
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes Ryan “has no doubt” said Stafford will be fine if Johnson ends his NFL career.
“It’s tough to replace a guy like that, there’s no question about it. I played with Tony Gonzalez, who’s a similar guy, first-ballot Hall of Famer, and you’re never going to replace them with just one guy. It’s kind of replacement by committee. But Matthew will find a way. He’s that good. He’ll be extremely productive.”
Granted, Ryan had the luxury of a budding superstar in Julio Jones, which certainly isn’t the case for Stafford with the Detroit Lions. Golden Tate is a superb wideout, but he’s not a game-breaker like Jones.
Stafford, who Steve Young said has the potential to be a top-five quarterback, boasts tremendous arm strength. However, that attribute only means so much after a player of Johnson’s caliber departs.
Though this transition process for Stafford is inevitable, there’s no guarantee it will happen immediately.
According to Birkett, Lions president Ron Wood said Johnson still hasn’t made an official decision on retirement. ESPN previously reported the wide receiver had informed head coach Jim Caldwell of the plans, but he advised Johnson to not rush the choice.
Regardless, Detroit would be wise to pursue a couple wide receivers during free agency as well as the 2016 NFL draft. Even if Johnson returns for another season, this saga likely will be repeated next year.