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Calvin Johnson stirs speculation that he might want to retire

Like another Lions great before him, Calvin Johnson may be retiring early because of football's physical and emotional toll.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Calvin Johnson's NFL career may be coming to a close. The Detroit Lions wide receiver is reportedly mulling over retirement, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, and potentially ending a prolific career after nine seasons.

Johnson released a joint statement with the Lions on Wednesday saying, "Like many players at this stage of their career, I am currently evaluating options for my future" and pledging to make a decision about his career soon. The Lions reiterated their respect for Johnson and whatever his decision may be.

Both statements were relatively innocuous at face, but there has been speculation around Detroit that Johnson may be hanging up his career -- murmurings that weren't dispelled by the statements. Birkett spoke to a former teammate of Johnson's who said that the wideout has taken a significant physical toll from the game, which is unsurprising for a 6'5, 240-pounder who made a Hall of Fame career out of bullying defensive backs.

Via the Free Press:

"There has been some conversations about it, not asking me how it is," said one former teammate who asked to remain anonymous because of the personal nature of his talks with Johnson. "But I think the guy's beat up. I think he's been through enough. And I think it's just his time. He's made the money, got the records, but whatever. I don't know for sure if he's going to do it. I don't know if he's going to get that itch to keep going. I really don't know."

Johnson was selected to a sixth straight Pro Bowl this season after catching 88 passes for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns. Still, he had to fight through lingering ankle issues to be effective, and even then seemed to wear down by the end of the regular season. He caught just 11 total passes in four games during the month of December before closing the season with 10 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears.

If Johnson doesn't retire, his future with the Lions may still be in doubt. He is entering the fourth year of a wealthy seven-year contract that is scheduled to pay him $16 million next season. By releasing Johnson, the Lions would save $11 million against the salary cap. They could also approach Johnson about taking a pay cut. As is, Johnson's production doesn't quite match his lofty paycheck. He missed five games in 2013 and 2014 while dealing with knee and finger injuries.

Superstars retiring early isn't uncommon in Detroit. Like Johnson, running back Barry Sanders had a prolific career that never generated much playoff success. Both players are regarded as two of the best players ever at their positions. Johnson, who will turn 31 in September, set the NFL record for single-season receiving yards with 1,964 in 2012. Sanders retired just after he turned 31 and before training camp in 1999, just 1,457 yards shy of breaking Walter Payton's career rushing yards record.

Years after Sanders retired, he cited Detroit's culture of losing as the culprit. Johnson has played on even worse Lions teams than Sanders, who went to the playoffs five times as opposed to Johnson's two. If Johnson retires, both players would have left with seemingly much more production left in the tank. Given the physical nature of the sport and the the Lions' lack of success, the decision would be understandable.

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