Mayhew on re-signing Johnson: 'It’s workable'

BY foxsports • January 12, 2012

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- General manager Martin Mayhew has eased the panic that Calvin Johnson’s contract might be too rich for the Detroit Lions to keep their superstar receiver.

Johnson will be in the last year of his contract during the 2012 season, with a base salary of $14 million and a salary-cap number of more than $20 million.

There has been media speculation that the impact of Johnson’s contract on the team’s salary cap for 2012 might be so great that the Lions would consider parting ways with him unless they can renegotiate his contract.

Mayhew joked about Johnson’s status at the start of his annual post-season meeting with Lions beat writers Thursday morning at the team’s headquarters.

“You think he’s pretty good?” Mayhew said. “We should keep him around?”

Seriously, Mayhew has no intention of parting ways with Johnson. His contract is workable even without a renegotiation, Mayhew added.

“The current situation right now is, he’s under contract,” Mayhew said. “We intend to work on it in the near future.”

Johnson’s situation was one of many issues that Mayhew touched on Thursday.

Coach Jim Schwartz is due for a contract extension, Mayhew said. Schwartz has worked three years on the four-year deal he signed when he was hired in 2009.

“We plan to start work on that in the next couple of weeks,” Mayhew said.

All three coordinators -- Scott Linehan (offense), Gunther Cunningham (defense) and Danny Crossman (special teams) -- have received contract extensions, Mayhew said.

In general, Mayhew was happy with the Lions’ development to the point where they had a 10-6 record and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

The Lions fulfilled Mayhew’s training-camp projection that they had enough talent to compete with any team.  But he thinks the next step is to beat playoff teams. Five of the Lions’ losses were to NFC teams that made the playoffs -- Packers twice, Saints, 49ers and Falcons.

“We took a big step, obviously,” Mayhew said. “We’ve got some work to do to take the next step.”

Mayhew wants to re-sign veterans -- such as offensive tackle Jeff Backus, middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch and backup quarterback Shaun Hill -- who are eligible to become free agents.

The free-agent signing period begins March 13. Typically, teams don’t re-sign their own free agents until close to the deadline.

Here are the key issues Mayhew addressed Thursday regarding personnel decisions, and even some post-game controversies involving himself and Schwartz:

Calvin Johnson

The player called “Megatron” had a dominating season, with 96 catches with 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. He led all receivers in yards gained and TDs.

Johnson was unstoppable in the 45-28 loss to New Orleans in the NFC wild-card playoff game, catching 12 passes for 211 yards and two TDs.

There have been differing reports on Johnson’s salary cap number -- a figure that is a combination of base salary and bonus payments -- ranging from $17.7 million to $22 million.

The number is “in the 20s,” Mayhew said. “He’s got a big number.

"We had guys with big numbers last year. He’s got a big number, but it’s workable. I think we’ll have an opportunity to work on it in the offseason.”

The Lions will work to sign Johnson to a long-term contract, which will reduce substantially the salary-cap impact under the NFL’s accounting practices and rules.

Mayhew stressed, though, that the Lions aren’t considering parting ways with Johnson because of his contract -- or for any other reason.

“I don’t think it’s something that absolutely has to be done (before the 2012 season),” Mayhew said. “I’m not going to suggest a pay cut for him.

“He’s got a great, young quarterback. He wants to be here. When you win, people want to be a part of that.”

Matthew Stafford

He's the “great, young quarterback” and played like it, passing for more than 5,000 yards and 41 TDs in the regular season.

“He’s a franchise quarterback,” Mayhew said.

Enough said.

Running backs

Mayhew expects both to return healthy in 2012 and contribute to the offense.

Mikel Leshoure missed all of his rookie season with a torn Achilles' tendon sustained early in training camp. Jahvid Best went out with a concussion in the sixth game and did not return.

“I expect him back,” Mayhew said of Best. “That’s not my decision.”

Best has to be cleared by independent doctors and passed the baseline test mandated by the NFL for players who have had concussions. Best said after the season that he wants to play and expects to be healthy.

Leshoure looked like an ideal complement to Best, whose speed and elusiveness made him a constant big-play threat. In workouts Leshoure was impressive as a blocker, runner and receiver.

“He can do everything,” Mayhew said. “He loves to play.”

Free-agent strategy

Eight of the 11 starters on defense and 10 of 12 on offense are under contract, Mayhew said.

The offense is rated to have 12 starters, with tight end Tony Scheffler and receiver Titus Young interchangeable, depending on formations.

Don’t expect the Lions to make a big splash in signing free agents from other teams.

“We’re going to be more focused on bringing our guys back,” Mayhew said.

Backus

He started every game for the 11th straight year, but went out late in the playoff game with a torn right biceps. Backus turns 35 in September.

He had a slow start last season because of a torn left pectoral muscle sustained in an offseason workout.

Both Mayhew and Schwartz said Backus played well steadily after his slow start.

Backus had surgery Monday and it went well, Mayhew said.

“I just talked to him (Wednesday),” Mayhew said. “He wants to play football. He wants to play for us. I want him to play for us.”

Tulloch

He signed a one-year contract as a free agent just before the start of training camp and was a team leader at middle linebacker.

Tulloch might want to test the free-agent market, but Mayhew said he wants him back.

Handshake-gate

Schwartz got into a scuffle with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh after their post-game handshake in October, and Mayhew refused to shake hands with Chiefs GM Scott Pioli earlier in the season.

The two met near the elevator after the Lions’ victory over the Chiefs, and Mayhew shook his head when Pioli offered to shake.

Mayhew was upset that the Chiefs filed a tampering charge against the Lions for comments made by Cunningham about one of their players late in the 2010 season.

“We haven’t really mastered the whole post-game handshake,” Mayhew said.


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