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.