Less than a day later, though, the Lions are starting the transition after agreeing to a deal with Cincinnati Bengals receiver Marvin Jones. The move can’t be official until the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, but it fills a glaring void for Detroit in its receiver corps.
Jones was the best possible option among free agent receivers for the Lions, especially after Chicago tagged Alshon Jeffery, keeping him off the market. Jones has the size at 6-foot-2 that the Lions covet and didn’t have in their receiving corps after Johnson retired. He also has good enough speed to be a downfield threat. He’s also just 25 years old, meaning he’s going to be hitting his prime and should be a Detroit asset for years to come.
He could combine with tight end Eric Ebron to give Detroit two field-stretching players who would allow Golden Tate to continue to work the short and intermediate routes he has become so adept at exploiting.
Jones has never put up the eye-popping numbers Johnson did in his career. He has never had a 1,000-yard season. He missed all of 2014 to injury. But he has been a deep threat as a receiver and has often been the No. 2 option to A.J. Green. Now he’s coming into a situation where he’ll be a co-No. 1 with Tate in an offense that needs passing success.
He’s also a smart signing because he understands what it is like to play in cold weather in November and December since he spent his time in the AFC North, with trips to Pittsburgh and Cleveland and home games outside in Cincinnati.
He also has pretty sure hands. He’s dropped only six of his 207 targets in his career and has a career reception rate of 64.7 percent. He has 134 receptions in the three years he played with the Bengals for 1,729 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Those numbers will not sound good compared to Johnson’s career totals – his total career yardage is less than Johnson’s record-breaking 1,964-yard season in 2012. But Jones isn’t going to be expected to replace Johnson all on his own.
The potential is there for him to break out in Detroit’s offense, especially with a bunch of targets to go around and attention paid to the Lions’ multitude of other receiving options. No matter what Jones provides, though, replacing Johnson is going to be a collaborative effort among Jones, Tate, Ebron, the Lions’ running backs and whoever ends up filling out the depth chart at receiver.
Bringing in Jones as a free agent signing, though, nudges the Lions into the future in a positive way.
Here’s what Bengals reporter Coley Harvey told me Wednesday morning about what the Lions will be getting in Jones:
“Jones should provide Matthew Stafford with a good vertical threat as the Lions try to move on following Calvin Johnson's retirement. By no means will Jones be able to replace Megatron all on his own, but he can be a good complementary receiver with a quarterback who knows how to get him the ball. Physical, tough -- some of Jones' best catches in a Bengals uniform came when he was either being contested for a jump ball, or needed to fight through defenders for extra yards. The Bengals knew the odds were high they would lose Jones, but he's certainly going to be a hit to their locker room and sideline. With Jones' former offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, and his Browns in the mix for the receiver's services, Detroit might have pulled off one of the biggest steals of free agency.”