In 1999, Detroit Lions star running back Barry Sanders shockingly retired at age 31. Almost 17 years later, another one of the greatest players to wear a Lions jersey unexpectedly retired in the prime of his career.
Detroit star wide receiver Calvin Johnson has reportedly told Lions head coach Jim Caldwell and his family that he plans to retire, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Caldwell and the Lions are still hopeful that the All-Pro known as Megatron will change his mind and play in 2016, but one person who knows Johnson well reportedly said, "He's pretty content with his decision."
Johnson has battled a number of injuries throughout the last few seasons. Recently, Johnson has suffered a lingering ankle injury and general soreness that stems from the beating he has taken during his nine-year career.
Apparently, Johnson's body has been so sore that he shared his decision to retire with only two players right after the 2015 season, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. Stafford and Tulloch were requested by Johnson to keep it quiet and they granted his wishes.
Regarding the ESPN report, the Lions said they're standing by their statement released on Jan. 6, which was they had "profound respect for Calvin and certainly understand and appreciate his decision to give proper thought and consideration to his football future."
If Johnson does in fact retire, he will go down as one of the best wide receivers, if not players, of his generation. The 30-year-old is the Lions all-time receptions leader (731) and receiving yards leader (11,619), as well as touchdown catches (83). He has been named first-team All-Pro three times and this past season received his sixth straight invitation to the Pro Bowl.
Despite his nagging injuries this past season, Johnson played in all 16 games, catching 88 passes for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns. It was Johnson's sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season and the seventh of his career.
Johnson's best season came in 2012 when he set the NFL single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964. He also caught 122 balls and scored five touchdowns that same season.
While Johnson may not have the statistics that other wide receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame had, he should get heavy consideration for an induction into Canton as soon he becomes eligible in 2021.
Johnson was the quickest receiver to reach the 10,000-yard milestone and is 27th on the all-time list, just shy of Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, who was forced to retired prematurely after a spinal cord injury in 1999.
While Johnson has only made the postseason twice in his nine-year career, it wasn't his fault. Unlike many Hall of Fame receivers, Johnson played with average to mediocre quarterbacks during his tenure in Detroit.
Teams often knew he was the Lions' best player and the defense still could not stop Johnson from getting his hands on the football.
He may not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but with all of his accomplishments on the football field, Johnson should receive a gold jacket and a plaque at the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day. The Lions just hope he decides to postpone the timing for that honor and come back and play for a few more seasons.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.