Calvin Johnson: I wanted to play elsewhere, Lions wouldn’t let me

USA TODAY Sports

The relationship between the Lions and Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson continues to be strained, at best. On Friday, Johnson disclosed another reason for his hard feelings.

Johnson claims that he wanted to finish his career with another team, but that the Lions wouldn’t let him leave.

“We asked would they release me or let me go to another team,” Johnson recently told WoodwardSports.com. “They wouldn’t.”

Asked whether he wanted to play for the Raiders, Johnson said he would have gone anywhere. He also recognizes that quarterback Matthew Stafford wanted out, and that he got his wish.

“You know what, it sucked that they didn’t let me go, but they let Matthew go, but hey, you know, it is what it is,” Johnson said.

Of course, the Lions got two first-round picks and a third-round pick plus quarterback Jared Goff (and his bloated contract) for Stafford. It’s unclear what the Lions would have gotten for Johnson, or whether they even listened to offers.

Johnson’s disclosure makes the way his career ended even more confusing. Five years ago, we raised the question of whether Johnson wanted to be cut by the Lions. That would have extinguished any obligation to repay bonus money, and it would have allowed Johnson to play for any other team at any other time.

If he hadn’t retired when he did, the Lions would have had to figure out how to deal with a $24 million cap number for Johnson in 2016. Maybe they would have cut him. At a minimum, Johnson’s cap number gave him leverage that should have been used by his agents to get the Lions to agree not to ask him to return a portion of the bonus money, or to secure an unconditional release if he did. Instead, he had to pay back some money, the Lions avoided a $24 million cap charge, and they were able to squat on his rights indefinitely.

A year later, there was speculation that Johnson could return to the NFL, with a trade of his rights to a new team. If he wanted to play for someone else in 2017, he simply needed to pull a Brett Favre and show up. Instantly, Johnson’s $16 million salary would have landed back on the books. The Lions would have had to cut him or trade him, promptly.

It’s confusing, to say the least. If Johnson had played hardball, he could have gotten to keep his money or he could have obtained the ability to sign with a team or maybe both.

Perhaps Johnson simply didn’t want a full-blown confrontation with the Lions. Instead, Johnson and the Lions are engaged in a cold war that has lasted five years and counting. Although the Lions would like to bury the hatchet, Johnson said that the relationship remains fractured.

“I’m not back in the family with Lions or anything like that,” Johnson. “It would be nice to if they try to resolve things, but that’s neither here nor there.”

Johnson has previously given the Lions the blueprint for rebuilding the bridge: Give him back the money that they made him repay.

Five years ago, Johnson received bad advice (or he got good advice and ignored it), and the Lions took full advantage of the situation. If they want to make things right with Johnson, they need to just give him a no-show job that pays out over time the amount they made him pay back.

65 responses to “Calvin Johnson: I wanted to play elsewhere, Lions wouldn’t let me

  1. These are those times when you realize many players aren’t that bright. Either that or the Lions beat players down so badly that they don’t know up from down. This was said at the time, and he didn’t press the issue.

  2. “Johnson has previously given the Lions the blueprint for rebuilding the bridge: Give him back the money that they made him repay.”
    ———————
    Well at this point you obviously dont just give him the money since it likely does no good but instead you sign him to a personal services contract that pays him that amount in year 1 and then whatever salary they determine that way at least hes under contract with the lions so they cant keep bad press from him at least under wraps.

  3. Brad Holmes said he totally expected to have Stafford when he took the job. When Stafford came to say he didn’t want to be a part of another fresh start, Holmes let him go. Obviously Holmes wasn’t there but it seems to just speak to whoever was making that decision at the time and Calvin didn’t do much to push back as it seems he could’ve easily forced his way out. He definitely was not the same player at the point he retired so it’s really difficult to guess what the truth is.

  4. The family of the inventor of the car, has no business in football. Barry Sanders, Billy Sims, Alex Karras, Lem Barney, Greg Landry, Charlie Sanders, Robert Porcher, Matthew Stafford, Herman Moore and Jason Hanson all joined ( and languished with ) Calvin Johnson on this dismal team. One got out, this year, but the rest were stuck with careers with no playoff wins.

  5. can’t stand the whining anymore.. Dude whined until he got into HOF. Now it is the crying about the money. Dude had a contract. He did not honor it. Those are the facts. I say HOF should have Herman Moore instead of CJ and it is now time for CJ to forget about it and move on. Media needs to stop enabling him.

  6. If this is true, Johnson had the worst agent in the history of the NFL. Of course the Lions, being the Lions, found a way to lose a premier asset without getting anything in return except some cap dollars.

  7. Not hard to see that Mr Johnson was that class act,between him and the owners . The owners are just in it for the profits. They could care less about the product

  8. To all so called fans, this what happens when owners have all the power. Players like Johnson, or sanders, or now possibly rodgers, will have to retire early because they no longer like their organization. if you are a true fan, then you should be horrid about this, since we are all getting robbed of the greatness of these players before its over.

    Owners should not be the only ones with the power to tear up a contract. When hall of fame players retire in their prime, the fans, the player, and the nfl all loses.

  9. Some are negative on the lions for this, but Johnson tried to play them and they called his bluff. Honor your contract or kick rocks.

  10. Enough already. Quit your whining CJ. We’re you great? YES. Do you have the right to whine to any outlet that will hear you? YES. But just stop it already. Nobody wants to hear about the pennies (in your world) you were forced to pay back. Did you fulfill the terms of the $40M signing bonus? NO. In everyone else’s works, that means you were in breach of contract. This constant use of the media to support your factless complaints is a bad look. Don’t keep tarnishing your HOF career with petty (in your world) and constant crying. It’s a bad look, 81.

  11. What a little baby, and he shouldn’t be in the hall either, PLenty of other players better than him.

  12. Reading these comments and it never ceased to surprise me how people will side with billionaires over millionaires.

  13. He could have paid them to release him. He had many options and was just a fool. TS.

  14. Southpaw says:
    June 19, 2021 at 2:26 pm
    Some are negative on the lions for this, but Johnson tried to play them and they called his bluff. Honor your contract or kick rocks.

    ————————

    It would only be a bluff if he didn’t retire.

    The two most legendary Detroit Lions retired prematurely on similar terms.

    They won’t sign a significant free agent until the team is sold to a new owner.

  15. Confused he signed a lucrative contract and didn’t want to honor it so it’s the Lions fault, another head scratcher, simply don’t put your name on the dotted line problem solved

  16. Contracts go two ways. It is said that many readers of this site “side” with the billionaire owners over the millionaire players. That is mainly incorrect for two reasons:

    1. If I have a side, it is with the TEAM. Not the owner, not the player, not the GM, not the guy who operates the twitter account, but the TEAM.

    2. In a contract, the team pays the player weekly during the season. This is the player’s salary. The signing bonus is paid entirely upfront, before the player steps foot on the field. If a player signs a 5 year deal and the team decides to move on after 3 years, the player keeps all the signing bonus money, and the team must still account for that money on their books (salary cap). That player can then sign with another team and get a new signing bonus and salary. If players would rather just sign year-to-year contracts to maximize their yearly value, they could certainly do so, but with two major drawbacks – no signing bonus, and risk of injury.

    I certainly never fault a player for trying to maximize their compensation. We all do it in all walks of life. But one player getting paid often means another player getting cut. So, I hope that my team makes the right decisions on which 53 players to pay each season, and that those 53 beat the other 31.

  17. The one team that perfectly matches their city/state is the Detroit Lions.

    Green Bay is very close to finding out what that’s like if they continue to butcher the way they’re handling Rodgers.

  18. On the one hand, it’s hard to blame current management for the sins of their predecessors. On the other hand, you can’t blame Johnson for wanting to at least have a shot at playing for a winning organization. I just don’t get the “he signed the contract live with it” argument when billionaire owners can simply release a player mid-contract whenever the heck they want. There should be zero beef with a player like Johnson seeking better employment conditions.

  19. If Stafford wanted to leave after 2015 (when Johnson retired) why did he resign with the Lions in 2017? He could have left Detroit.

  20. Both sides bear some responsibility here. CJ’s contract numbers were out of hand in 2016. No team would trade for that contract. His retiring helped the Lions avoid a cap hit, but the Lions could have just cut him and accomplished the same thing. Had he not retired, I think they would have cut him at that point. But in order for the Lions to get cap relief for the unpaid bonus, they had to have it repaid. It wasn’t strictly a money decision, that cap space helped the team and to not take advantage of that would have been wrong. The smart thing to have done would have been to find a way to hire CJ for a non-football gig and pay him that way. They should have done that. But even though I really respect CJ as a player, I’m tired of his whining about this. He knew football is a business and he played it like a business. He had sophisticated agents and lawyers on his side of the table too. At the end of the day, a deal is a deal.

  21. You shouldn’t have signed your second contract genious! They can’t tag you for as long as the term of the second deal you signed

  22. Southpaw says:
    June 19, 2021 at 2:26 pm

    Some are negative on the lions for this, but Johnson tried to play them and they called his bluff. Honor your contract or kick rocks.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Teams routinely cut players who are still under contracts the team agreed to. Why is it sacrilege for a player to want out of a contract, but totally fine when it’s the team doing the same thing?

  23. If he didn’t like being there he should never signed the extended contract or had a couple clauses in there so he could get out sooner… point is he wanted the most money he could get & staying there wasn’t the issue, it was GREED…. That’s why he’s continued to cry about what he had to pay back…..
    His agent & Calvin are not smart at all… Calvin had leverage to leave or get cut & keep money he lost by getting released by the team… he didn’t use that power & we still got to listen to him cry about it…. Save us the hassle & go cry to a mirror in private…. NOBODY CARES!!!

  24. If a player under performs a team can cut him with no issue. If a team promises a player they will try to build a winning team to get them to sign a deal and then the team doesn’t hold up its promise that player should have the option to become a free agent. Everyone yells about players should honor a contract well then so should the team.

  25. He could have forced the issue just by showing up. A 24 million dollar cap hit when the cap was around 155 million in 2016 was untenable. They would have either released him or a team trading for him would extend him and spread the cap hit out. Sounds like he regrets walking away and is doing some revisionist history here. He had the leverage to force a trade, he either chose not to use it or he was getting really bad advice from the people around him.

  26. Instead of allowing Hall of Fame players like Sanders and Johnson to have success and happiness elsewhere while fans enjoy seeing their twilight performances, this ramshackle organization preferred to force them into early retirement. A toast to the Lions, May your championshiplessness continue to infinity!!

  27. Oh shut up. You signed a contract, and it actually paid you really well. Go pound sand.

  28. People who want to know why Stafford didn’t leave in 2017 are gonna find out this year.

    Stafford = Dalton

  29. Right Lions bashing time, Truth is Calvin Johnson had no heart for the game. God givin ability but didnt have that killer instinct he could care less just pay him. I wasn’t even mad when he left I thought it was better for our team to be more well rounded.

  30. Or maybe he’s just kind of messed up in the head and doesn’t know what he wants. Well, he did know what he wanted, to be paid for not playing. Good work if you can get it.

  31. If I’m a star NFL player after rookie contract expires I’d sign the mega contract with whomever getting as much as I can. After when you’re into Years 9, 10 and beyond just one year deals. That way if you decide you don’t like the direction your current franchise is going you can easily go somewhere else. Problem solved. Think before you sign with the ink.

  32. dejadoh says:

    June 19, 2021 at 4:09 pm

    If Stafford wanted to leave after 2015 (when Johnson retired) why did he resign with the Lions in 2017? He could have left Detroit.
    —————
    Reading comprehension seemed to fail you and the 40 plus people who thumbed this up. Johnson never said Stafford wanted to leave in 2015, he acknowledged Stafford wanted out NOW and they accommodated him.

  33. The Lions may not be what everyone considers first class, but the Fords pay their players. Suh, Sanders, Stafford, Johnson and so on. They paid for performance, overpaid in many cases, and found themselves hamstrung by those massive contracts. Calvin Johnson got paid big time and then decided to bail on his team because of unhappiness. Now he feels he was treated poorly. It’s comical that grown men willingly sign contracts and then act as if they’ve been screwed lol.

  34. Teams routinely cut players who are still under contracts the team agreed to. Why is it sacrilege for a player to want out of a contract, but totally fine when it’s the team doing the same thing?
    +++++++++++++++++

    Because the collective bargaining agreement allows the owners to cut players. If contracts were guaranteed, the dollar value would be less. The contracts are priced with the knowlwefge the player can be cut and priced higher as a result.

  35. Yeah, no special favors for Barry or Megatron, but Stafford gets dealt immediately to exactly the place he wanted to go even though another team (Panthers) were offering more.

  36. Memo to all of these Diva players!!!!! Play for the team you are on and stop whinning!!!!

  37. Poor guy. It’s looking more and more as if he (like Antonio brown) was hit in the head too many times and/or too hard.

  38. Wow, Calvin Johnson has MORE “new” revelations? Someone needs to tell this dude his 15 minutes is up!

  39. Wow what a freakin’ whiner! I’m so sick of these prima-donnas.
    Honor your contract, or don’t sign it.This guy made millions off the team who drafted him AND signed a second contract with them! Calvin Johnson the person is not even in the conversation with Matthew Stafford the person. Matt is a very high character guy, who is well respected in and out of football. Calvin Johnson was a great player, but a turd as a person.

  40. As a lions fan I have to ask, Calvin are you going to be unhappy forever? Thinks didn’t go how you’d hoped, it doesn’t for most athletes they do t attain glory. You achieved huge personal success and should be moving towards securing your legacy and having a place of honor and distinction in the history of the club. You’re moving from that, and that’s what’s still to be had about your playing career, legacy management. I hope this is the last of this bitterness and he begins to focus on what he did not what he was unable to do.

  41. You really have to try hard to make yourself look dumber than the Lions front office.

  42. The Lions always expected too much out of their position players, anyone remember what they expected out of Sanders? They had one great player(at two different times) and they thought they should have been in the Super Bowl both times not realizing it takes a total team to go to the Super Bowl, one player no mater how good doesn’t win a Super Bowl, IT TAKES A TEAM!

  43. 16 million dollar contract, more than most people will ever come close to seeing in their lifetime, and he walked away. Whaa whaa whaa. He left Stafford high and dry as well as the rest of the team. And he’s upset they asked for some money back, cry me a river.

  44. Time to move on, dude! Stop living in the past. It won’t do you any good.

  45. Grow up Calvin. You could have controlled your own destiny but you decided to pout about it and then QUIT. Get past it already. It’s over.

  46. Johnson is a liar . He’s mad because he want’s the Lions to write him another fat check . The Lions signed him to the biggest contract in NFL history and he chose to walk away from it . The Lions could have forced him to return more then the $1M they did . At the time they only did it for the minimum because that would help their cap not to punish Johnson . This guy had a reputation around Detroit for being very frugal so it’s not surprising he’s still bitter that he had tp payback $1M to an organization that paid him $110M during his career . The Lions haven’t done very much right but they did absolutely nothing wrong in their treatment of the Megawhiner.

  47. I can understand a player wanting to leave a bad organization.

    1 – don’t sign a long term contract, go free agent

    2 – adults get to make adult decisions. No one forced him to make tens of millions with a bad team. He voluntarily chose to stay. Live with your decision.

    3 – if you do want to leave then discuss that with them and the paid signing bonus. Negotiate.

    OBS signed a big contract while Eli Manning was QB, then started melting down a year later. You knew what the state of the franchise was. Same for DeShaun Watson, signing after Bill OBrien gave away DeAndre Hopkins for nothing.

  48. bkinacti0n says:
    June 19, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    Contracts go two ways. It is said that many readers of this site “side” with the billionaire owners over the millionaire players. That is mainly incorrect for two reasons:

    1. If I have a side, it is with the TEAM. Not the owner, not the player, not the GM, not the guy who operates the twitter account, but the TEAM.

    2. In a contract, the team pays the player weekly during the season. This is the player’s salary. The signing bonus is paid entirely upfront, before the player steps foot on the field. If a player signs a 5 year deal and the team decides to move on after 3 years, the player keeps all the signing bonus money, and the team must still account for that money on their books (salary cap). That player can then sign with another team and get a new signing bonus and salary. If players would rather just sign year-to-year contracts to maximize their yearly value, they could certainly do so, but with two major drawbacks – no signing bonus, and risk of injury.

    I certainly never fault a player for trying to maximize their compensation. We all do it in all walks of life. But one player getting paid often means another player getting cut. So, I hope that my team makes the right decisions on which 53 players to pay each season, and that those 53 beat the other 31.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~

    With that kind of sensical and stone cold logic, you simply have no place in social media, and will have to show yourself out.

    Thank you.

  49. Barry Sanders has come back to the Lions organization and is a representative for the team, despite issues with his signing bonus. His forgiveness had to have been bought. I expect that Sheila Ford will come to a similar arrangement with Calvin Johnson.

    People forget that Megatron’s body was in pretty beaten up when he retired. This wasn’t like Barry, who could easily have played several more years. I think his body made the retirement decision for him. A lot of NFL teams let player’s keep their signing bonus money when they retire. I think that’s what he expected.

    To me it seems like he expected to keep a massive amount of money he didn’t earn, but I’m not a rich and entitled athlete.

  50. It’s almost like he signed a contract of his own free will then didn’t like it but wouldn’t give back the millions they gave him

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