Ndamukong Suh may not be the only top-two pick who could soon be bidding Detroit farewell.
With Suh, the second overall pick in 2010, poised to hit the open market in March, the Lions likewise could decide to tell Calvin Johnson, the second overall pick in 2007, to hit the road at about the same time.
Crazy as it seems, Johnson carries a cap number of $20.558 million into the next league year. While a restructuring that converts, for example, $10 million of his $12.5 million salary into a signing bonus could cut the cap number down to $12.558 million, the maneuver would drive his 2016 cap number of $24 million up to $26 million.
At some point, Johnson may have to take less money in order to stick around. If he doesn’t want to do that, the Lions may have to part ways with him.
Johnson’s health will be a major factor in the final analysis. While he has missed only seven games in seven-plus seasons, Johnson lately seems to be always injured, always either missing practice or limited. And always questionable to play. Currently, he’s dealing with a chronic ankle injury that may cause him to miss a game or two.
No matter good Johnson may be when healthy, at some point the total analysis will point to spending that money elsewhere.
The fact that the Lions seemed to be interested in trading up from No. 10 to get receiver Sammy Watkins or receiver Mike Evans and ultimately decided to use that pick on hybrid tight end/receiver Eric Ebron (who has only eight catches for 80 yards this season) suggests that the Lions are at least considering the wisdom of reallocating their dollars away from a guy who is one of the best receivers in league history when healthy, but who isn’t healthy enough often enough to justify a cap number that shoots from $13 million to more than $20 million in less than six months.
For more on Johnson and other Lions issues, here’s Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press on Tuesday’s PFT Live.