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Johnson's value to Lions made extension a wise move

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Posted March 14, 2012 @ 1:14 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

The Lions agreed with WR Calvin Johnson on a contract extension through 2019 on Wednesday. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Johnson agreed to a seven-year deal worth $132 million with $60 million guaranteed. (The Lions, in announcing the deal Wednesday, said the contract is for eight seasons beginning this season and running through '19.)

According to multiple reports, Johnson's new pact is the largest ever given to a wide receiver, exceeding the contract given to Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald in 2011. Fitzgerald's deal is reportedly worth up to $120 million.

Johnson, 26, caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 16 TDs in 2011. He was entering the final year of his rookie contract.

In five NFL seasons, Johnson has caught 366 passes for 5,872 yards and 49 TDs. He has scored 12 TDs or more in three campaigns. In 2011, he became the first receiver in NFL history to catch a pair of TDs in the first four games of the season.

The PFW Spin

The numbers are staggering, but the Lions had every reason to want to sign Johnson long-term. Let's count the reasons from a football and financial perspective:

Financial

• Johnson was reportedly slated to count $22 million against the salary cap in 2012. According to DetroitLions.com, the new contract will reduce his cap figure by about $9 million. This allows the Lions to potentially be more active in free agency. The logical question is whether they can re-sign starting MLB Stephen Tulloch, an unrestricted free agent. Starting CB Eric Wright has already signed elsewhere, agreeing with Tampa Bay.

• With the salary cap slated to increase in 2013, the cost to re-sign Johnson might well have gone up next offseason.

Football

• Johnson stresses secondaries like perhaps no other receiver in the game. He can beat double- and triple-coverage. (Remember him catching a TD at Dallas with three Cowboys defenders surrounding him?) He is a tremendous vertical threat. And he is a one-of-a-kind weapon near the goal line. Single-cover him and you are asking for trouble. He is outstanding in jump-ball situations.

• The attention he draws helps the Lions' other pass catchers. TE Brandon Pettigrew and WRs Titus Young and Nate Burleson must be respected, too, and if Johnson is getting uncommon attention from secondaries, a capable pass catcher (or more) will be single-covered.

• Johnson, who turns 27 in September, is in the prime of his career, and he has missed just four games in five NFL seasons.

• He has a very good rapport with QB Matthew Stafford. "We'd look at each other and we knew we needed to go out there and take it over," Stafford said of Johnson at season's end. "I'd give him chances on balls, and he was making sure he was getting open and making plays on it. It was a ton of fun. He's a great guy, great teammate — obviously, in my opinion, the best receiver in the game."

• Johnson, whose work ethic is one of his strong suits, is respected by his teammates. 

"I must say that was well deserved for Calvin Johnson," S Chris Harris wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "One of the hardest workers I've seen. Not to mention very humble. Happy for him!"

Of Johnson's humility, WR coach Shawn Jefferson once said: "It baffles me at times."

In short, the Johnson contract, while huge, does not figure to generate much resentment.

Johnson's value to the Lions isn't lost to anyone that watched him shred defenses this season. Considering the salary-cap relief the deal generates — coupled with the chance the price of signing him could have increased a year from now — the time was right for this deal.

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