Hello my Lions fan brethren,
Over the past several weeks, the CJ contract has rightfully become a hot topic on Lions blogs and in the sports media as a whole. Several posts have been made by journalists & fans understandably declaring that CJ & his agent hold all the cards in the ongoing negotiations and that the Lions are going to have to cripple themselves financially in order to retain Megatron.
But I would like to offer an alternative take on the situation where the Lions are actually negotiating from a position of relative strength. CJ's agent may appear to be in position to price the Lions out of contention by way of the richest payday ever for a non-quarterback, but I believe that if Mayhew stands his ground & makes a sensible offer, Calvin would be wise to take it.
In my view, Mayhew can offer Calvin a contract very similar to Larry Fitzgerald's and dare CJ's agent to use his apparent leverage. If you think the entire situation through, you can bet that Calvin would accept.
The "pocket rockets" up Mayhew's sleeve in these negotiations are Calvin's experiences with losing and the presence of a certain 24 year-old, 5,000 yard passer. By all accounts, Calvin is a quality human being with a strong desire to win. The historic losing that he endured during his first two years in the league clearly bothered him. This leads me to believe that he would not risk entering a losing culture again simply to make himself some additional coin. The presence of Stafford also arguably makes Detroit the single most desirable team for a young receiver to align himself with. No one knows this better than CJ himself.
So let's walk thru the scenario outlined above. Let's say the Lions make such an offer and CJ & his agent decide to use their leverage and turn down the extension. Calvin's cap number would explode & the Lions would have to make several cuts in order to keep him on the team, which they would do. The cuts would likely push the Lions back out of playoff contention & Calvin, rightly or not, would be labeled by some as selfish. CJ would also enter into his final year of his contract with no security beyond 2012. If he blows out his knee, he would surely wish that he had signed an extension. Or maybe Stafford goes down again & CJ's numbers dip, again risking the extra coin that he would be chasing. Even if everything goes perfectly next season and he becomes an unrestricted free agent, how many teams are going to make him an offer that significantly outpaces the aforementioned Fitzgerald deal? Perhaps a few. But what types of situations would those teams be offering? There's certainly no guarantee that they will have a franchise QB to get him the ball, and it's also unlikely that a true contender will have such ample cap space to throw at a WR.
If you were Calvin, would you risk injury or walk away from the best young passer in the game for a few extra million bucks? CJ can make that money back in a single endorsement deal, assuming of course that he still has a quality QB helping him put up record numbers and still maintains a team-first image. Why risk all of that? Why put your current team in a situation where you cannot ever win? Because you can? It just doesn't add up.
Now imagine you are Mayhew. If the worst-case scenario above unfolds, and Calvin walks away to be the next super expensive WR watching passes from Skelton fly over his head, what happens to your franchise? Well, the Lions would obviously take a step back. First would be the salary dump mentioned above to keep Calvin for one more year. Then would come the loss of a truly unique receiving talent. But then the clouds would give way to a clear dawn of a ton of cap space. Stafford would still be throwing bombs & Suh would still be taking down Vikings in the backfield for big losses. Mayhew would draft the next great WR, at a much, much cheaper price under the new CBA. That receiver won't be CJ, but the last time that I checked, several teams with great QBs have won the Super Bowl without Calvin Johnson on their team. The Lions would continue their ascension towards contention and CJ would probably regret not being in D-town for the afterparty.
Hold strong, Mayhew. Calvin's agent may not hold all of the cards afterall.