- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) - When Barry Sanders was Calvin Johnson’s age, he was playing his final season for the Detroit Lions.

There’s no indication that Megatron will abruptly walk away from football the way Sanders did, but with the Lions in the middle of yet another major overhaul, the clock is ticking on the 30-year-old receiver’s status as one of the NFL’s top talents.

And Detroit seems no closer to a Super Bowl than it was when he arrived.

“There’s still time,” Johnson said.

Johnson was already facing questions about his future with the Lions when the team fired president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew on Thursday.

It’s not clear yet whether Detroit will begin a total rebuild, but the front office shake-up underscored just how far the Lions have fallen this season.

After reaching the playoffs in 2014, Detroit is now 1-7, and it’s fair to wonder if yet another transcendent player will come through this organization without having a chance to win much.

Johnson was asked Tuesday if he worried his performance with the Lions would end up being “wasted” in Detroit.

“I don’t view it as wasted - it took a lot of hard work to do the things that we’ve done so far,” he said. “Definitely can’t say it was a waste of anything.”

Johnson tried to keep his comments upbeat, but two days later, owner Martha Firestone Ford announced that Lewand and Mayhew had been dismissed. It was a rare public comment from ownership, and there’s no telling what other changes could be in store. Ford did not take questions.

The moves came 10 days after the Lions fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and two offensive line coaches.

When the Lions made the playoffs in 2011, they snapped a streak of 10 consecutive sub-.500 seasons, and it looked as if their future was bright thanks to the young trio of Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford.

But Detroit has made the playoffs only once since then. Suh left via free agency after last season, and Johnson turned 30 this September. Stafford put up big numbers earlier in his career, but has been unable to join the game’s top tier of quarterbacks.

Mayhew’s first draft as GM was in 2009, when Detroit took Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick. Of the players the Lions have drafted under Mayhew, 31 were on NFL rosters as of Tuesday, which is tied for the 16th-most in the league, according to STATS.

Detroit added some quality players with high draft picks. Johnson and Stafford are two of them, and Suh went No. 2 in 2010 and defensive end Ziggy Ansah was the fifth pick in 2013.

The team’s performance in the rest of the draft has been spotty. Second-round picks Mikel Leshoure, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles and Kyle Van Noy have dealt with injuries and other problems. None of those players has started more than 17 games for Detroit, and only Van Noy is still on the roster.

Guard Laken Tomlinson, taken in the first round this year, has made six starts. Running back Ameer Abdullah, a second-rounder, came into the season with high expectations but has had trouble holding onto the ball.

With the team seemingly headed toward another high draft pick, it will be interesting to watch how this year’s rookies play down the stretch. After an open date on the schedule, Detroit’s next game is at Green Bay on Nov. 15.

“Let’s not underestimate how difficult it is as a rookie, I don’t care where you’re drafted, to come in and play and play well,” coach Jim Caldwell said.

“Laken had one of his better games this past game and played really well. … We’ve never expected, at least I never have, expected a rookie to come in and blow the doors off. But I do think they’re making good progress.”

Caldwell still has his job, but after all of the recent changes within the organization, it’s certainly fair to wonder if his second year as Detroit’s coach will be his last. Beyond that, the big question is how substantially the roster will change after this season.

Have the Lions run out of patience with Stafford? Will they be willing to move on from Johnson? Both have big contracts that may not be worth it if the team decides to start over completely.

Johnson may still have a chance to win a championship in his career, but that might be more likely to happen somewhere other than Detroit.

“I want to win here,” he said. “This is where I’ve been, so definitely want to kind of create a winning culture.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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