The Lions and receiver Calvin Johnson have had a strained relationship since he retired, and for good reason. When Johnson retired — at a time when his bloated cap number indicated he’d otherwise be cut — the Lions required him to pay back $1.6 million in unearned signing-bonus money. Johnson has made it crystal clear that, if the team wants to patch things up, they can start by paying him back.
Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp wants to mend fences with Johnson. However, she won’t say whether that means the Lions will be making any payment to him.
“I’m not going to go into the money issue, but I hope we can repair things with Calvin Johnson,” Hamp said Thursday, at coach Dan Campbell’s introductory press conference, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “He was obviously an amazing player for us. We’re going to continue to reach out to him and hope that we can repair things because I think it’s important that he comes back into the Lions family. We’d love if he could, if he will.”
It sounds like the Lions won’t be refunding the money, since Johnson has already given them a fairly clear path to fixing things.
“They already know what they got to do,” Johnson said in 2019. “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.”
Again, if Johnson hadn’t retired, he surely would have been cut, and he would have owed them nothing. The Lions should have recognized that then. They didn’t. They should recognize it now.
If they want to have a relationship with a player who’ll become a rare Lions Hall of Famer eventually, it will be money well spent.