Admit it, many of you are still at least mentally sitting in your man cave in the dark staring a television you turned off as soon as Tom Brady’s forced pass to Julian Edelman on that two-point conversion got batted up in the air.
How did this happen? How did this happen to a team with this kind of offense … To a team with Tom Brady?
And after a period of anger in which you blame everyone from Bill Belichick not taking the three points with six minutes left in the game to Marcus Cannon for attempting to block Pro Bowl edge rushers seemingly with a spin move to that damn waterboy for not keeping Rob Gronkowski hydrated, it hits many of you – the “if only.”
“If only the Patriots had that one deep threat, that one guy who could win one-on-one downfield every time. That would have changed everything.”
Looking past the fact that without the prototypical “deep threat” (and really their best receiver of any size or shape for seven weeks) the Patriots had more plays of 20-plus yards than anyone else in the league or the fact that Tom Brady’s own inaccuracy on quick throws was as much to blame as his receivers’ inability to get open or his line’s inability to block against an elite Denver defense, OK, I’ll play your game.
I’ll play it if we can both acknowledge that when talking about deep threats, you’re not talking about a guy who will occasionally stretch the field; you’re talking a top-caliber, every down receiver.
You’re talking about Randy Moss 2.0.
That guy doesn’t exist on the free agent market, so really, you’re talking about a guy on another team of Pro Bowl quality who might be made available by a team in transition. Enter Megatron.
Calvin Johnson has hinted at retirement, a notion that is questionable given his age (31) and the fact that he is still playing at an extremely high level, but also somewhat understandable, given the Detroit Lions’ futility.
In his career with Detroit, his teams have managed to make the playoffs just twice (wild card qualifiers ushered out in their first game), their only two winning seasons. While playing at a high level, he’s suffered through some 0-16, 2-14 and 4-12 campaigns. During the winless season of 2008, he led the league in touchdown receptions, while in 2012 when the team won just four games, his 122 receptions (currently seventh all-time) yielded the most receiving yards in NFL history. To say they guy has paid his dues is an amazing understatement.
But the real wild card lies in how serious Johnson is about his retirement contemplation. After an amazingly uninspiring year of leadership from Jim Caldwell, new General Manager Bob Quinn not only announced Caldwell would stay, but also recently gave him an added endorsement, which, believe it or not, could actually tilt the scales in favor of Johnson staying. After all, the retention of Caldwell also signaled that Offensive Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who was able to get the Lions’ offense playing well after his mid-season promotion, would also be sticking around in the Motor City. Johnson is on record saying he enjoyed playing in Cooter’s offense.
Johnson’s contract carries with it a $24 million cap hit for next season and nearly $13 million in dead money that the Lions would be responsible for if he retires or is released. He’s not going to be released. Detroit does not face a cap crunch in 2016. So simply put, the Lions stand to benefit from moving on from Johnson only if they are convinced he won’t play for them.
From the Patriots’ perspective, it’s easy to see why you would want a guy of that caliber. From a purely logistical standpoint, the Patriots would have to do some maneuvering to afford to take him on, but it’s far from impossible.
Some of the moves are obvious. Jerod Mayo figures to be gone, which would automatically result in $6.4 million in savings. Scott Chandler, who was a huge disappointment, would save about $2 million against the cap if released. Danny Amendola, who carries a $7 million cap hit, will surely have his contract restructured regardless of Johnson’s status.
The Patriots could also do what they did with Moss and make a restructure of Johnson’s deal a condition in the trade, turning some of his salary into bonuses.
Whether the Patriots have enough equity to acquire him, or are willing to part with the assets necessary to do so is another topic altogether. Already missing their first round pick in this year’s draft thanks to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s unfounded and unprecedented punishment for the self-made DeflateGate “scandal,” the remaining picks carry with them a higher premium, especially for a team that figures to address some line of scrimmage issues via the draft. Some of the Patriots’ best draft pick currency is in the form compensatory picks, which can’t be traded.
But then how much would it take to pry away a guy who will handcuff a team to the tune of $13 million to watch games from his couch? Randy Moss was not just a malcontent; he was an underperforming malcontent, so a fourth-round pick for a player like Johnson would probably be a stretch, but how much?
Too much remains unclear about Johnson’s mindset (the Lions have admitted that to this point, they haven’t spoken with him regarding his future) and that remains the lynchpin in this discussion.
In this case, the uncertainty means hope for many Patriots fans, who remember Brady’s glory days (as if they’re gone).
Go ahead and dream.
Crazier things have happened.