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The curious timing of Calvin Johnson’s retirement musings

Calvin Johnson AP

Only three days after his ninth NFL season ended, Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has begun openly talking about the possibility that there won’t be a tenth.

It’s curious timing, and it’s hard not to wonder whether the statement has less to do with his desire to play and more to do with a contract that will be impossible for the Lions to justify honoring, at a cap number of $24 million and a salary of nearly $16 million for 2016.

So by announcing today that Johnson may have an announcement at some point in the future, Johnson has put everyone on notice that he’s thinking about not returning to the Lions in 2016, which in turn means he could be persuaded to go elsewhere. And it’s an invitation for other teams to tamper with Johnson by reaching out to his agent with hypothetical contract figures that hypothetically would be available for a player who hypothetically wants to leave his current team. Hypothetically. Then, he’ll be able to compare those offers to whatever the Lions may offer on a revised deal, and he’ll be able to decide whether to stay with the Lions, pick a new team, or walk away.

If Johnson actually is thinking about quitting the game, he needs to realize that how he feels at the end of a season will be much different than how he’ll feel at the start of a new one. If he has any doubts about that, he should ask Brett Favre, who began his annual will-I-or-won’t-I-retire routine not at age 30 but at age 32 and who was nudged into retirement by the Packers in February 2008, at a time in the offseason where he was more prone to declare, “I’m done.”

If Johnson does retire, he’d join running back Barry Sanders as all-time Lions greats who parked the car with gas in the tank. Like Sanders, Johnson would surely be the subject of several years of speculation about whether he’ll return.

Also like Sanders, Johnson would have to pay back some bonus money to walk away. Specifically, there’s $3.2 million remaining on the $16 million signing bonus he received when he signed his current contract in 2012.

The bottom line is that Johnson surely won’t turn up his nose at $16 million for one more year, and that the Lions surely won’t pay him that amount. The real question is how much the Lions or someone else would pay, and whether that will be enough to persuade Johnson to keep going.

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41 Responses to “The curious timing of Calvin Johnson’s retirement musings”
  1. lightninhopkins says: Jan 6, 2016 3:37 PM

    Dude wants out. Who can blame him?

  2. corporatemediaprostitute says: Jan 6, 2016 3:44 PM

    Thanks for drawing on all your years of experience as a player in the NFL in telling Megatron what he “needs” to realize. Comical.

  3. remstar10 says: Jan 6, 2016 3:44 PM

    If you do leave then thanks for everything man. Been loyal to Detroit, optimistic and always played your hardest every game.

  4. jjb0811 says: Jan 6, 2016 3:45 PM

    Cleveland, Jags, Raiders, & Jets haven’t run off 2 HoF players in mid career. Congrats Detroit??

  5. vikesfan320 says: Jan 6, 2016 3:45 PM

    If Johnson really does retire, it’d be very sad for the Lions franchise to drive not one but two all-time greats into early retirement. If that doesn’t call question to the organization as a whole I don’t know what would.

  6. illadelphiasphinest says: Jan 6, 2016 3:50 PM

    Hey Megatron, your welcome to come play in Philly!!!
    Cooper is going to be cut, Mathews has hands of stone, Agholor was a HUGE disappointment as is every WR from USC.

  7. mikea311 says: Jan 6, 2016 3:51 PM

    come to NY. we dont have a defense and wouldn’t need one.

  8. billymutt says: Jan 6, 2016 3:51 PM

    I know it probably won’t happen, but man would he be an asset to the Patriots. Just imagine that offense with Megatron catching passes from Brady.

    Sigh.

  9. shaggytoodle says: Jan 6, 2016 3:54 PM

    Even though that draft class had JaMarcus going 1st OVR. 3 of the top 7 picks in that class, could be argued for best player at the position for a fair amount of the last several years with Megatron AP, and Joe Thomas at LT.

    I can’t think of any other class like that, the truth is though, those players will probably be hanging it up in the next couple of seasons.

  10. 4gone says: Jan 6, 2016 3:56 PM

    Favre was never going to retire, he used the threat of retirement as his only leverage to try and get Ted to sign some free agent weapons to go for a SB while Brett was still in prime.

    The way this year has gone in GB, don’t be surprised to hear Rodgers talk about retirement after they are bounced out of playoffs early. ha.

  11. lightninhopkins says: Jan 6, 2016 3:57 PM

    He will probably sign with the Vikings and take a shot at a ring next year.

  12. cdstackhouse says: Jan 6, 2016 3:57 PM

    BAL-TI-MORE!!! BAL-TI-MORE!!!

  13. johnodocks says: Jan 6, 2016 4:03 PM

    Since the Lions aren’t going to pay you, retire. Wait a few games into the season when a team really needs a WR after one of theirs goes down (yes, it will happen). Then you can sign a high salary contract with the desperate team and end up making the same amount of money for a partial season that you would have made for a full season.

  14. buccedtb says: Jan 6, 2016 4:03 PM

    Not a Pats fan- but the below would be awesome no doubt about it- Calvin and Gronk? sick….

    billymutt says:
    Jan 6, 2016 3:51 PM
    I know it probably won’t happen, but man would he be an asset to the Patriots. Just imagine that offense with Megatron catching passes from Brady.

  15. DrSteveBrule says: Jan 6, 2016 4:04 PM

    Maybe the Lions should apply for LA relocation too.

  16. angrylionsfan says: Jan 6, 2016 4:05 PM

    What I’d really like to know is can they somehow renegotiate his contract to reduce his cap hit to the Lions and make him more trade friendly?

    If it’s not a question of health and more a lack of passion like Barry had, then sit down with the next GM and work out a new deal that lets him move to a better team that’s a true contender that might get him a ring.

    I have a great deal of respect and admiration for him as a player and I would genuinely be happy for him if he spent his last year or two on the Patriots or Panthers and potentially get a ring.

  17. dohczeppelin says: Jan 6, 2016 4:11 PM

    Can’t blame a guy for contemplating quitting while he’s ahead instead of suffering through a slow and painful death over the next few years, desperately trying to learn the offensive system of a new team every year in the face of an ever dwindling salary, until one last debilitating injury finally knocks him out of the game for good.

    The Colts accumulated a couple of guys this past off-season who would have done well to go that route, A. Johnson and F. Gore. And of course we all know about Favre. Peyton Manning is quite possibly facing a similar dilemma. Great players, every one of them, but there is something to be said about retiring gracefully.

    Assuming C. Johnson handled his money at least pseudo-responsibly and didn’t have 9 illegitimate children all over the country, he should be able to take his millions, his records, and the general respect of the NFL as one of the best of all time with him off into the sunset.

  18. conormacleod says: Jan 6, 2016 4:12 PM

    Over paid. $16 mil for one wide receiver? Ridiculous.

  19. jonwill57 says: Jan 6, 2016 4:17 PM

    He’s under contract and has $16MM guaranteed. Lions can’t cut ($24MM cap hit). They’re best option is to trade him. Top WRs just signed for $16MM. He’s no longer the best but he’s still a top 10 with injury concerns.

    Detroit’s biggest problem is the contract they gave to the QB!

  20. custardchucker says: Jan 6, 2016 4:18 PM

    Belichick’s not had a great track record in the second round of the draft, so why not give their pick to the Lions and take Megatron on a restructured deal?

  21. ravensfan56 says: Jan 6, 2016 4:19 PM

    The Ravens have never had a WR make the pro bowl. It would be awesome to have someone like Calvin Johnson on the team.

  22. bhlobos says: Jan 6, 2016 4:20 PM

    While I’ve enjoyed watching Megatron play, if the mind and/or body isn’t willing any more, it’s worth considering. I can’t imagine that he’ll want to play the game if he feels he can’t give anything to the game any more.

  23. joetoronto says: Jan 6, 2016 4:20 PM

    He wants to be able to walk when he’s 50. Nothing curious about that. Walking away as one of the best ever without a few years at the end when he’s in constant pain and a shell of his former self.

    More players should follow suit.

  24. dreemeagle says: Jan 6, 2016 4:27 PM

    whatever you decide, sir, thanks for the memories;

    without question you are one of the very few pro athletes of your time, irrespective of the sport, about whom it can be said is a class act–one you wouldn’t mind having over for dinner or seeing your daughter;

    first class, totally;

  25. lingsun54 says: Jan 6, 2016 4:32 PM

    I take what Calvin Johnson says at face value. He’s never been a me-first kind of guy. He isn’t the kind of guy to play games like that.

  26. Packernet says: Jan 6, 2016 4:34 PM

    Lions will hold his rights so retiring doesn’t get him out Detroit. Ask Brett Favre.

  27. immafubared says: Jan 6, 2016 4:35 PM

    He a dam fine but very very very expensive receiver compared to all the young blood coming out in the draft. Pick a good one and your set for a lot of years, Megatron doesn’t have a lot of years and at 16 mil its a no brainer.

  28. psubeerman21 says: Jan 6, 2016 4:43 PM

    Most teams can use a guy like this, including Detroit. Can’t he renegotiate the deal to get that number down a bit?

  29. Kingmj4891 says: Jan 6, 2016 4:44 PM

    Calvin said he wants to retire a Lion, I believe that. He has been but class and is a team player. Either he retires or he comes back on a restructured salary.

  30. ragnarthegreat says: Jan 6, 2016 4:45 PM

    don’t forget their winless season. Must have been hard to take. this franchise has been down a long time. they might be well served by trading him while he still is valuable and giving him a shot at a ring. everyone wins then.

  31. mjk2u says: Jan 6, 2016 4:46 PM

    With $75M they MUST spend this year in FA money or lose it expect the Raiders to throw big money at him on a 2 year gig if he goes free.

    Carr with Murray, Cooper, Crabtree and Johnson just might do the trick to get them in playoffs next year. who would you double? They passed on him once when he was available and got a huge bust in a QB, if he is there again I doubt they pass twice.

  32. metrocritical says: Jan 6, 2016 4:47 PM

    Understanding available information and CJ’s history and mindset, one can deduce the following: 1. He’s made a enough money to last several lifetimes. 2. His body is falling apart and he wants to live long and healthy. 3. He is humble and loyal and may not be interested in another rebuilding or retooling project in Detroit but doesn’t want to make a power play to skip town, either. 4. He has set some roots in metro Detroit. 5. He’s just ready tired of the grind.
    6. CJ has always been a class act, on and off the field, and deserves to go out on his terms without anyone questioning his motives.

  33. cowboysallday says: Jan 6, 2016 4:57 PM

    If Johnson retired and paid the money he owed, could he come back for any team he would want?

  34. lambeaudungbarn says: Jan 6, 2016 5:00 PM

    The Vikings have cap room and Wallace won’t be invited back after his Egg laying season with us. and Unlike the Lions The Vikings are building for a Super Bowl Run.

  35. torebear says: Jan 6, 2016 5:07 PM

    I don’t think his cap space is a problem for the Lions. They have the cap room. I think it’s more about injuries.

    Hopefully he will think it over and return for another year. He will cost the Lions 13 mil in capspace whether he plays or retires. If he elects to stay and play, it costs the Lions 11 million. Thats not a big deal.

  36. purpleguy says: Jan 6, 2016 5:19 PM

    No disrespect to the Lions, but given the cap situation and the “kick the cap problems down the road” issue with a contract renegotiation, it may very well be in both parties’ best interest to part ways.

  37. 6250claimer says: Jan 6, 2016 5:45 PM

    Parked the car with “gas in the tank”? Surely you jest. Megatron is a shell of his former self. He’s been beaten up for years, and never seems 100% sound, and his game has suffered immensely for it. I think he might be serious – it’s time to step down before his skills decline any further.

  38. newguy925 says: Jan 6, 2016 6:59 PM

    Or maybe he really does plan to retire. Surgery on the same ankle again and again, might be health related. I don’t think he put in a full week of practice all season.

  39. ivanpavlov0000 says: Jan 6, 2016 9:41 PM

    The bottom line is that Johnson surely won’t turn up his nose at $16 million for one more year, and that the Lions surely won’t pay him that amount.
    —————————
    Stop calling him Shirley.

  40. calref1944 says: Jan 6, 2016 10:37 PM

    I think the Raiders dumped Marcus and the Snake.

  41. theneedforspeeed says: Jan 6, 2016 11:31 PM

    The Lions are currently 23 million under the cap for next year. That’s 14 million more than they started with this season, so not sure why all the crying about the ‘cap hit’.

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