Setting aside for now the fact that teams reaching out to receiver Calvin Johnson about a potential return to football are tampering, there’s a specific procedure that would allow Johnson to get back to football any time he wants.
All he has to do is show up.
Specifically, he simply has to notify the Commissioner that Johnson will be ending his retirement and reporting to the Lions. At that moment, his $16 million salary from 2016 would immediately hit the books — along with a $16 million cap number. And with the Lions, according to the NFLPA, currently having less than $8 million in cap space, they would have to move quickly to avoid being out of compliance.
The quickest, easiest move would be to release Johnson, which would make him a free agent immediately.
Another way to handle the issue would entail teams interested in Johnson reaching out to negotiate a face-saving trade for the Lions, which would allow them to get a little something in exchange for letting Johnson go. However, Johnson’s cap number gives him the upper hand.
Nine years ago, when Brett Favre returned to the Packers and brought with him a $12 million cap number, the Packers had the cap space to accommodate him while they figured out a trade. The Lions don’t have that luxury.
So if Johnson, who ostensibly retired for health reasons but who has in recent months made clear that his lack of faith in the Lions’ ability to win a Super Bowl was a significant factor, sees a chance to chase a ring, it would be easy for him to do it. The only question left to answer is whether he wants to.