Calvin Johnson easily could have avoided bonus reimbursement

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Former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who never said much during his playing career, lately has been saying plenty. Over the weekend, he said plenty about his current disillusionment with the team.

Though he opted not to spell it out, the discontent comes from the fact that Johnson had to write out a check for $320,000 to the team, representing 10 percent of the $3.2 million in unearned signing bonus money remaining on his contract when he retired.

As noted by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the team’s squeezing of Calvin for $320,000 doesn’t mesh with the decision of teams like the Cowboys and Seahawks to not recover $5 million in signing-bonus money from Tony Romo and Marshawn Lynch, respectively. So why did the Lions want 10 cents on the dollar from Johnson?

The Lions may have wanted to collect something in order to avoid setting a precedent that other players could cite if retiring before earning all of their signing-bonus money. (In 1999, they pursued every unearned penny from Hall of Fame tailback Barry Sanders.) The easy way to avoid any untoward precedent would have been to cut Johnson, severing any right to bonus reimbursement.

And that’s ultimately what Johnson should have pushed them to do. With a salary of $15.95 million and a cap number of $24 million hitting the books in March 2016, the Lions likely could have cut Johnson if he’d refused to accept a restructured deal. So he should have held firm before choosing to retire.

In February 2016, Johnson was dragging his feet about his retirement decision, prompting speculation that he hoping to be released instead, both to avoid the repayment obligation and to have the ability sign with any other team he chooses, if he ultimately were to unretire.

So while Johnson has every right to be miffed at the Lions, Johnson also should be miffed at himself. Or at whoever advised him to retire instead of biding his time until the Lions would have released him.

19 responses to “Calvin Johnson easily could have avoided bonus reimbursement

  1. No one can avoid the embarrassment and shame of the only NFL team to go 0-16 / One playoff in win in sixty years / being part of the worst organization in the NFC when playing for the Lions.

  2. Dude doesn’t care about $320K (oh to be able to say that) and probably gave his head a slow shake over the team’s behavior.

  3. I don’t think a precedent would have been set. The Lions could simply say to any other player, “You’re not Calvin Johnson.” It looks bad towards other players who play in or would consider playing in Detroit, putting aside the millionaires vs billionaires, who cares view of the general public.

  4. I think Calvin is upset by the fact that the Lions actually wanted the money back from him. But he certainly doesn’t need it. From all accounts he’s been very smart with his money. His teammates once had to shame him into tipping the pizza delivery boy. The name Calvin Johnson and bankruptcy will never appear in the same sentence.

    What Calvin needs to understand is that he’s still well respected and admired by his fans and teammates for both his play on the field and his selfless work to benefit the community. The bonus payback strictly had to do with the salary cap.

  5. That’s an elegant way to end a HOF career – get cut by the Detroit frickin’ Lions.

  6. I don’t know about Lynch’s contract, but Romo (and Kyle Orton) restructured his contract, turning salary into signing bonus, to give Dallas cap relief. Going after a guy’s signing bonus that would’ve already been earned as salary is in poor taste. And then good luck in getting players to restructure in the future.

  7. Calvin would have been released if he had not retired. I’m surprised his agent didn’t work this all out ahead of time.

  8. Article misses 1 extremely important point: CJ retired on March 9, the 1st day of free agency so the Lions would know what they needed to do, get Marvin Jones. That was a huge favor to them, and in kind the should have waived the payment. No precedent would have been set, except to part on good terms, something the Lions have problems doing with their HOF players.

  9. While 300k is a lot of money; the guy’s net worth is 85 million… I’m not too worried about how he is going to eat tonight.

  10. Ok, so if the linked article is correct and he earned $100 million over the 9 years he played, then $320,000 represents .32% of what he made over that time.

    Assuming the average working schmuck makes roughly $52,000/year, he’d make $468,000 over 9 years…

    It’d be like the average schmuck having to scribble out a check for $1,497.60.

  11. senatorblutarsky says:
    May 22, 2017 3:10 PM

    The bonus payback strictly had to do with the salary cap.

    What??? $320k isn’t even a rookie minimum contract . $320K off of a $12.9M hit for a team that entered 2016 FA with $42M available was hardly about cap space.

  12. He wouldn’t have been cut. It only made cap/financial sense if they cut him in 2017, not in 2016.

    As for his play. The Lions really missed him in the red zone. He would still have been the best receiver on the Lions in 2016.

  13. The Lions are a business. They indeed should want any unearned money back from players so they can use it on guys who actually ARE working for them. I’d be pissed if a company I held stock in was giving money away to folks who didn’t earn it.

  14. If the anecdote about the pizza boy is true no wonder Calvin is salty. Millionaires stiffing working joes out of 3$ for a delivery tip….smdh

  15. vikingf0rlife says:
    May 22, 2017 2:53 PM
    No one can avoid the embarrassment and shame of the only NFL team to go 0-16 / One playoff in win in sixty years / being part of the worst organization in the NFC when playing for the Lions.


    How about the embarrassment and shame of being the only team beaten by the Lions in a playoff game in the last 60 years? Especially since it happened because your crazy owner insisted on starting the immortal Steve Beuerlein at QB instead of Troy Aikman?

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