Matthew Stafford had a big advantage in each of his first seven seasons in the NFL; Calvin Johnson was on his team. But with the 2016 season just a couple months away, the 2009 number one overall pick now has to prepare to not have that advantage.
Stafford spoke about Johnson’s retirement during a coaching clinic at the University of Georgia on Friday.
“Not to say that I expected it, but I wasn’t shocked,” Stafford said regarding Johnson’s retirement. “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.”
Stafford was constantly being asked what his thoughts were on Megatron’s retirement announcement during the clinic. Over and over again, Stafford kept saying he wasn’t surprised.
“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.”
Johnson performed well in Detroit before Stafford arrived, but his career really began to skyrocket after the Lions drafted Stafford. In 2012, Johnson set the NFL single-season receiving record with 1,964 yards. Overall, he had three seasons of at least 12 touchdowns with Stafford throwing to him, and he finished with a total of five 1,200-yard seasons, with 2015 being his last.
“He makes plays that one, two, maybe three guys in the league can make and he was doing it on a consistent basis for a long time,” Stafford said. “It’ll be difficult to start, but we’ll find ways to still be explosive, still score touchdowns and do all that kind of stuff.”
To replace Johnson, new Detroit General Manager Bob Quinn added Marvin Jones and Jeremy Kerley to the fold. Golden Tate returns after he led the team in receptions the last two years as well.
Overall, the Lions won’t have the same advantage they’ve had since 2007, but Stafford thinks they’ll manage.
“It’ll look different obviously,” Stafford said. “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.”