Calvin Johnson

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'aggressively pursuing' WR Calvin Johnson

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Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'aggressively pursuing' WR Calvin Johnson

The Eagles signed two free-agent wide receivers in March and invested two draft picks at the position in April, but there's only one Calvin Johnson. Unfortunately, the legendary Lions wideout is also retired, and that's the way things are likely to stay.

That's just the first of several issues with a report that the Eagles are "aggressively pursuing" a trade for Johnson. A bigger problem is that rumor has since been refuted by more authoritative sources, namely Mike Florio for ProFootballTalk.

But Johnson is on the block, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, and at least two teams have contacted the Lions about a swap. Just don't expect the Eagles to be seriously in the mix, regardless of what you may have heard.

For starters, the Eagles don't need Johnson.

Sure, the six-time Pro Bowl selection was a one-of-a-kind talent — a 6-foot-5, 237-pound target with a 42.5-inch vertical and 4.35 speed. Any offense could use that, in theory. Except the Eagles already have Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Torrey Smith and Mack Hollins playing heavy snaps, and Jeffery's and Johnson's skill sets are incredibly similar. It simply isn't necessary.

Furthermore, the Eagles can't afford Johnson. At only $4.7 million under the salary cap, according to the NFLPA, they can't afford his salary, and even if they cleared the space, they really can't afford the trade for his rights. The Eagles have already dealt their second- and third-round draft choices in 2018. Now they're going to send more picks for a receiver they don't need?

It doesn't sound like Johnson is even interested in playing. Schefter makes it sounds as if his response to inquiries about coming out of retirement has been tepid at best, which is no surprise seeing as he quit football nearly two years ago.

So you have a player who doesn't want to play, whose rights are only available in a trade, who was the highest-paid receiver in the NFL at the time of his retirement, at a position where the Eagles don't really need help. Sounds like fertile grounds for a trade.

Even assuming some of these hurdles would be easier to clear than it seems — Johnson has a change of heart, restructures his contract, and the Lions deal him for cheap — is he any good in 2017?

Johnson is 32 years old. He already appeared to be in physical decline when he last played. Now, he would need be attempting to come back with a brand new team, in a brand new offense in which he's never played.

All of that sounds like a lot more trouble than it would be worth for an Eagles team that's amassed a 7-1 record without Johnson.

Oh, and the NFL's trade deadline is on Tuesday, by the way. That doesn't leave a lot of time to persuade Johnson, figure out the money and create a roster spot, and compensate the Lions for their trouble in all of this.

If Johnson were a free agent, there's no reason the Eagles wouldn't pick up the phone, assuming there was any reason to believe he wanted to play. There's no reason to believe Johnson wants that, and there's no reason to believe the Eagles want to trade for him, pay him, and mess with the dynamics of a team that's rolling as it's currently constructed.

Rating: Calvin Johnson's couch is probably pretty comfy.

Lions' Marvin Jones could give Eagles problems Sunday

Lions' Marvin Jones could give Eagles problems Sunday

The past five times the Eagles have faced the Lions, they had to account for Calvin Johnson, one of the most physically imposing wide receivers in NFL history. Needless to say, this Sunday in Detroit is going to feel a little different.

Johnson retired somewhat abruptly during the offseason, his departure a profound change for a Lions offense that for nine years boasted one of the biggest natural matchup problems that's ever existed. Defenses had to account for the six-time Pro Bowler on every play, and whether he was double- or even triple-covered didn't necessarily matter. He was almost impossible to contain.

The player referred to as "Megatron" twice led the league in receiving yards, his 1,964 in 2012 still good for the single-season record, so even from a pure production standpoint, it's clear what a huge loss he is. That being said, the Lions haven't suddenly become feeble without Johnson.

"It's different," quarterback Matt Stafford said of the Lions' offense without Johnson. "Obviously, he's a Hall of Fame-type talent, but we have a lot of talented NFL players too. We have guys that are making plays for us on a really consistent basis, so that's a positive."

Detroit's passing attack enters Week 5 ranked sixth in the league at 283.3 yards per game. The offense as a whole is ninth in total yards (376.0) and 13th in points (23.8), and that's despite a disappointing running game that comes in at 22nd in yards per game (92.3).

The Lions have survived Johnson's retirement thanks in part to the offseason addition of Marvin Jones. Signed as a free agent from the Bengals, Jones is off to a big start with his new team, his 482 yards receiving currently good for second in the NFL and his 21.0 yards per catch good for sixth.

"Marvin's been catching the ball well," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's a real fine route runner and every week he comes in in exactly the same way. He looks at the opportunity to go to practice and see if he can get better.

"It's just like anything else in this league. You may have a couple good weeks and then things stiffen a little bit. What he's trying to do is just to make sure he gets a little bit better every single day, and he's been doing that for us."

Jones has proven an outstanding addition for the Lions and an excellent receiver, although he's no substitute for Johnson. At 6-foot-2, 198 pounds with 4.4 speed, from a physical standpoint, Jones isn't even in the same world.

Then again, Jones isn't trying to replace Johnson either.

"I'm not certain that's even on the table any longer," Caldwell said. "That was a while back for him when he was first signed. I think everybody realizes or understands that there's only one Calvin Johnson. There's only one guy that's 6-foot-5, 230-some-odd pounds and runs 4.3 in the 40 and operates in rare air consistently, and he's just a great person.

"It's not a matter of him trying to come in and replace Calvin. Calvin's his own guy and a very, very unique guy, a Hall of Famer. Marvin has his own qualities. He has his own uniqueness about him, and I think that's what he's been all about. He's been focusing more on his task than any comparisons."

While a player of Johnson's caliber can completely change the complexion of an entire offense and how defenses prepare, the Eagles aren't necessarily looking at it that way. While safety Malcolm Jenkins admitted that while having Johnson could make things easier for the quarterback at times, he doesn't feel the departure changed the Lions' offense all that much.

"Not much difference," Jenkins said. "Jones has been really productive and Stafford's been really good about throwing it to him. He's making plays. 

"Obviously when you have Calvin Johnson out there, you can always, when you're in a jam, throw it up regardless of who's out there, if he's double-teamed, triple-teamed. I don't see that outlet anymore, but they're moving pretty efficiently. You have guys across the field whether it be (wide receivers) Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin, that are going to be important matchups for us as well."

It was a little surprising to hear from a defensive standpoint, especially considering what happened in Detroit last year on Thanksgiving. The Eagles were beaten soundly, 45-14. Stafford threw five touchdowns. Johnson caught three of them.

Of course, the Lions' offense might be different without Johnson, but the Eagles' defense is different too (see story). If the unit takes care of business up front, it doesn't necessarily matter who's in the receiving corps.

"Couldn't cover the running back last year, couldn't stop Calvin Johnson," Jenkins said. "Obviously those matchups are a lot different this year. They don't have Calvin Johnson.

"This year, we feel like our matchups are a lot better, but we still have to do a good job stopping the run, still have to get after the quarterback."