Calvin Johnson: Feud with Lions won’t be resolved until team ‘figures out’ how to pay $1.6M he’s owed
By virtue of his outstanding NFL career as a member of the Detroit Lions, former All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year — his very first of eligibility. Although Johnson’s career is very much a cause for celebration, “Megatron” and the Lions are still not celebrating it together.
In the years since his sudden retirement at the end of the 2015 season, Calvin Johnson has become estranged from the only NFL team he ever played. The dispute stems from the wide receiver being owed $1.6 million.
Johnson opened up about the feud between him and the Lions in an interview with Graham Bensinger.
“I’m not gonna close a chapter, but I’m not gonna bend over backwards to try and do anything, because I didn’t do anything. I did my job,” Johnson said. “I’m not saying they gotta repay me the $1.6 (million) all up front, but they need to figure out a way to do it and not have me work for it. Because I already did the work for it.”
According to an August story by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Johnson was forced to repay the Lions $1.6 million of his signing bonus when he retired after the 2015 season. The Lions had allegedly offered Johnson a three-year deal that would have paid Johnson $500,000 annually for appearance fees and a $100,000 donation for Johnson’s charity, but Johnson did not take the offer, believing it showed the team was “not serious” about resolving the issue.
In his interview with Bensinger, Johnson acknowledged that the way Lions ownership has treated him in his retirement relative to the way other franchises treat retired players is a major part of the problem.
“You see (Tony) Romo come out, you see Andrew Luck come out, you see how their owners take care of them,” Johnson said. “When we were playing with the Lions, you see (ownership) out at practice, but that wasn’t an everyday thing when I was playing … They just see us as, we’re just pawns out there. We’re just numbers. They don’t see the personalities, they don’t see the people.
“I’m just now getting to learn the ownership. I never really spoke to them when I played.”
The post-career dispute between Johnson and the Lions is unfortunate, considering that Johnson was one of the greatest players in both the recent and overall history of the franchise. The No. 2-overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Johnson made six Pro Bowls and was a four-time All-Pro, including in 2012 when he led the NFL in receiving yards (for the second year in a row) and receptions.
Johnson finished his career with a total of 731 receptions for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. In addition to being named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021, Johnson was also named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2010s.