| Detroit Free Press
Assessing Detroit Lions’ coach, GM searches as regular season ends
Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez debate Jan. 4, 2021, who the Detroit Lions should hire as general manager and head coach.
Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
Johnson is one of four first-year eligible players among 15 finalists for the Class of 2021, along with quarterback Peyton Manning, cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive end Jared Allen.
He played nine NFL seasons and retired as the Lions’ all-time leader in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and catches. Only Julio Jones, Jerry Rice and Torry Holt had more receiving yards in the first nine seasons of their careers.
“He’s one of the best receivers to ever play the game in my opinion,” Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said last week. “I was coaching in Cincinnati and we had — he made an unbelievable catch. We had three guys on him, made an unbelievable catch, about a 50-yarder for touchdown. But the game plans always revolved around him every single time you played him, whether cheating players there or doubling him or any of those things.”
Johnson was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and a three-time All-Pro, collecting 731 catches for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. He retired after the 2015 season at 30 years old. He was one of four receivers named to the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team last spring.
Manning and Woodson are considered locks for the 2021 class, which will include up to five modern-era players. The list of 15 finalists will be whittled to 10 during a virtual selection meeting Jan. 19. From there, the class is reduced to five finalists, then a yes-or-no vote is cast on the final five.
Holt and Reggie Wayne are the other receivers on the ballot. Other finalists include offensive linemen Tony Boselli and Alan Faneca, linebackers Sam Mills, Zach Thomas and Clay Matthews Jr., defensive lineman Richard Seymour, safeties John Lynch and LeRoy Butler, and cornerback Ronde Barber.
The 48 Hall of Fame selectors also will vote yes or no on Tom Flores, Bill Nunn and Drew Pearson, finalists in the coach, contributor and senior categories.
Since 1985, just three receivers — Rice, Randy Moss and Steve Largent — have been selected to Canton on the first ballot.
Johnson has been in a financial dispute since with the Lions since his retirement, but team president Rod Wood said Tuesday the organization is “very much supportive of Calvin’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame.”
Johnson told the Free Press in August it would be “the utmost honor” to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“The guys you just mentioned. Randy, Largent, Jerry. Tremendous respect,” Johnson said. “Followed those guys coming up. I wanted to take certain things from all those guys’ game and piece them together into my game. Not just those guys, but other greats out here, too, but they’re definitely admired.”