Could Lions move on from Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford in 2016? (Shutdown Corner)

Amid sweeping, dramatic changes to the front office on Thursday, major changes lie ahead for the  Detroit Lions. Yes, there’s the matter of replacing president Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew on a permanent basis, and the status of head coach Jim Caldwell is very much up in the air now. But we safely can start the clock on Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and wonder if either or both will return in 2016, no matter who is calling the shots.  [ Yahoo Daily Fantasy Football: First place wins $100K in our $500K contest for Week 9 ] Stafford’s play has not improved, even allowing for a bad offensive line protecting him this season, to the point where he’s certain to return with a 2016 base salary just south of $16 million and a salary-cap hit of $22.5 million. Johnson has been hindered by a number of factors, including Stafford’s play, and is due a base salary of $17 million with a cap hit of more than $24 million next year. Projecting the salary cap for next year around $150 million, that pair would make up a massive 31 percent of their allotted funds. The Lions have a mere 37 players under contract for 2016, per Spotrac.com, who account for nearly $127 million. Many of those players could be gone. But the biggest names to wonder about are clearly Stafford, the former No. 1 overall pick who never has established himself consistently as a top-tier quarterback, and Johnson, who recently turned 30 and has  seen his production level off a bit the past two seasons as injuries have taken some toll. But alas, these decisions usually come down to money. Even injured players — especially Johnson, who is beloved in Detroit — have their value. Would Johnson be willing to redo his deal and give up some money on the front end? That remains to be seen, as the quiet Johnson typically punts on discussing detailed matters such as this with the media. Stafford feels even more tenuous, though. He’s still a tradeable commodity, even with his limited return on investment, hefty price tag and the question of whether he’s a true leader (even as tough as he’s shown to be, playing through pain this season and in the past). There are still several NFL teams that need quarterbacks, so there would be Stafford suitors. Would he cost the same range as the Chicago Bears paid for Jay Cutler (two first-round picks, a third-rounder and Kyle Orton) or what it cost the Kansas City Chiefs for Alex Smith (two second-round picks, including a high one)? That’s likely the range, and a provisional price tag for Stafford, who is a year older (27) than Cutler was when he was traded to the Bears, but the team that gets Stafford would be getting a quarterback with a lot of football left, health notwithstanding. The Lions made an easy move in firing Mayhew and Lewand. Now comes the hard part: picking their successors, determining the coach’s standing and then figuring out if the team’s two offensive pillars will remain in the picture. – – – – – – – Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

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