ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There is no way the Detroit Lions would do this, no matter the public front it might show. There’s just no possible way the Lions would possibly risk their franchise player, Calvin Johnson, on Sunday.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz continues to play coy about Johnson’s availability for the season finale against Minnesota, saying it will be a decision that could go until Sunday before the game. Johnson, as he usually does, declined to answer many questions about his status other than it is a two-way decision and that he’ll see how he progresses throughout the week.
That the Lions are contemplating playing Johnson this weekend makes absolutely no sense. There's nothing on the line but pride and Johnson is ailing at best and outright hurt at worst.
None at all.
Johnson won’t confirm or deny the extent of his knee injury or if he’ll have to have surgery on it after the season. He won’t even say what, exactly, is wrong with his knee. We know he has missed a ton of practice time this season, missed one game and was limited in two others.
That alone is enough to sit the best player the Lions have, the player whom your entire offense flows through. He was limited last Sunday in what was essentially an elimination game against the New York Giants, and that should tell you everything you need to know about Johnson’s health.
Or lack thereof.
Don’t push him to play. If he says he wants to play, sit him down and tell him it is in the best interest of his future and the franchise’s future that he sit out.
The first priority should be Johnson’s health and that is the first -- and most important -- reason he should sit.
One of the most obvious things about Detroit this season is its ineffectiveness without Johnson in the lineup. The Lions, whether or not Schwartz is around a week from now or a season from now, can use Sunday to figure out other wide receiver plans.
How does free agent-to-be Kevin Ogletree look with a full complement of game day snaps? Can Nate Burleson still play on the outside if need be? Could tight end Joseph Fauria line up outside? What about new-to-the-53-man-roster Matt Veldman, who will play his first NFL game Sunday? Is Jeremy Ross a potential weapon as a receiver as well as a returner?
A lot of these things can be accomplished by not playing Johnson on Sunday. If Detroit plays him, at best the Lions will get a decent, but likely limited, effort from him. At worst, he could injure himself further.
And that’s something no one around the Lions should even want to think about.