Anquan Boldin didn't ask Lions for Calvin Johnson's No. 81 'out of respect'

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Anquan Boldin didn't even think about it. No way he wanted any piece of it.

The Pro Bowl receiver has worn No. 81 his entire career, from Arizona to Baltimore to San Francisco. It has been his thing. But in Detroit, he knows No. 81 means something a bit different, especially now.

For the previous decade, No. 81 was the number of Calvin Johnson, one of the best receivers in NFL history. So even though Boldin has 1,009 career catches and 13,195 career receiving yards in 13 seasons, he decided to stay away from claiming No. 81 with the Detroit Lions.

"For me, it's a respect thing," said Boldin, who will wear No. 80. "I think everybody knows what Calvin Johnson means to this community, to this organization. So for me, I didn't even want to go down the road.

"So just out of respect, I didn't even ask about it."

Of course, part of the reason Boldin is in Detroit is because Johnson is no longer here. Johnson retired in March after nine seasons, opening up a void in the Lions' offense and a large chunk of room under the salary cap. Detroit signed Marvin Jones during free agency to help replace Johnson's production, then started to investigate Boldin's services.

Detroit brought him in for a visit in June -- Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he never worked out for the team -- then signed him Thursday, the day before training camp began.

"We certainly know his body of work and we certainly had a real good feel for him in that regard," Caldwell said. "He's one of those guys, everybody's a little bit different. You'll find some guys that play into their late 30s. You just had a young quarterback [Peyton Manning] that did the same. You have some guys that don't make it into their 30s, at 29 years of age they have some difficulties.

"He's one of those guys, a rare guy that takes great care of his body. He's a strong individual from a physical standpoint. He's been able to battle and give out more punishment than what he takes. And I think that's kind of what's helped him through the years."

Boldin has been a consistent receiver throughout his career, putting up seven 1,000-yard seasons and catching at least 56 passes every year. He also has played in 10 or more games in every season.

But he was still looking for a home as minicamps wound down, and his familiarity with Caldwell from Baltimore and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin from Arizona and Baltimore made Detroit an attractive destination.

"There was the familiarity and also I like the progression of where I feel like this team is headed," Boldin said. "Great young talent, guys that are hungry. Just watching the last eight games of the season last year, I felt like that this team would be in position to compete this year."

Boldin should help with that, and by early indications, he's going to receive a lot of playing time. In his first practice Friday, even though he had been with the team for about only 24 hours, he ran with the first unit and caught multiple passes. He often lined up in the slot with Jones and Golden Tate on the outside.

But his production and size gives the Lions even more options in a receiving corps missing the man whose number Boldin declined to even ask about.

"Post-Calvin it's different obviously, you know Calvin's a Hall of Fame-type receiver. Just the physicality of a 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, you don't have that anymore," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "But we've got a lot of talented players. Some old, some young, some right in the middle of their prime of their career.

"So, I think we're in a good place."

It's a place that was improved when the Lions brought Boldin in as the franchise tries to navigate its post-Calvin Johnson world.