The Lions want to make peace with receiver Calvin Johnson. There’s only one way to do it.
Make money appear in Johnson’s bank account.
“They already know what they got to do,” Johnson told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press on Saturday. “The only way they’re going to get me back is they put that money back in my pocket. Nah, you don’t do that. I don’t care what they say. They can put it back, then they can have me back. That’s the bottom line.”
The Lions required Johnson to reimburse the team for a portion of the signing bonus money that he hadn’t earned before retiring three years ago. The specific amount has been the subject of conflicting reports and accounts, but it’s currently believed that, of the $3.2 million that Johnson had not earned in signing bonus money, he paid back at least $1 million.
Whatever the specific amount on the check written by Johnson to the Lions, Johnson clearly wants that same amount written on a check made out to him before he’ll make nice with the team. Until that happens, Johnson believes there’s nothing to discuss.
“I ain’t talked to [team president] Rod [Wood],” Johnson said. “I don’t even want to talk about that. I don’t have no reason to talk about that. I don’t even talk about the Lions. I mean, I talk to my Lions that came out here to help me out today. . . . I appreciate them so much for that. Just hope to keep those kind of relationships rolling for in the future because these kids, man, they take so much from that.”
Although a signing bonus constitutes advance payment for future services to be rendered, the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s departure from the team suggest that the Lions would have cut Johnson before his cap number spiked to $24 million in March 2016. In hindsight, the smart move for Johnson would have been not to retire but to force the team to choose between carrying the cap number or cutting him. Alternatively, Johnson’s agent to negotiate a deal with the Lions that would have given them the cap relief they needed while also waiving their right to seek bonus money.
Regardless of what happened in the past, it’s now clear what the Lions need to do if they hope to make amends with the best receiver in franchise history. And the easiest way to do that (since there’s no salary cap for non-players) would be to hire him as a team ambassador, and to pay him for the first year the money that was recovered, along with maybe a little more.