Calvin Johnson: To mend fences, Lions need to pay me $1.6 million

NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony
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The Lions and Calvin Johnson continue to have no relationship. The rift traces to the fact that, when Johnson retired, the Lions made him pay back some of his signing-bonus money.

Johnson recently elaborated on his concerns in an interview with Graham Bensinger.

“What do you make of their efforts to resolve it?” Bensinger asked Johnson.

“Not really an effort,” Johnson said.

So what needs to happen?

“I’m not saying they got to repay me the $1.6 [million] all up front, but they need to figure out a way to do it, and not have me work for it, because I already did the work for it.”

The Lions recently offered to pay Johnson $500,000 per year for three years, if he worked 28 hours per year. They also offered to make a $100,000 donation to a charity of Johnson’s choice, pushing the total payout to $1.6 million. Johnson declined.

“That’s a joke,” Johnson told Bensinger. “I put it like this. Imagine you had a friend — well, maybe not even a friend, just somebody.  They gave you something and then they take it back. And then are y’all gonna still really hang out? Are y’all still cool? And imagine you did a whole bunch of work for it, too. It’s the principle. It’s the principle of it. You cannot have me back unless you put that money back in my pocket. . . . I’m not working for it.”

Technically, Johnson hadn’t earned the money. He received it as an advance on future services. That said, the Lions shouldn’t have asked for it back. They needed him off the books for cap reasons, and if he hadn’t retired they likely would have cut him. (Frankly, his agents screwed this up by not brokering a better deal when Johnson willingly walked away, allowing the team to dump most of his bloated cap number for the 2016 season.)

Johnson also was asked whether the financial issue triggered Johnson’s failure to mention the Lions in his Hall of Fame induction speech.

“Mama always tell you if you ain’t got nothing good to say, don’t say it at all,” Johnson said with a laugh.

As to the issue between player and team, there’s nothing more to say. There will be no relationship until Johnson gets his money.

44 responses to “Calvin Johnson: To mend fences, Lions need to pay me $1.6 million

  1. “Technically, Johnson hadn’t earned the money. He received it as an advance on future services.“

    End of story. Go away.

  2. I wouldn’t give him one cent. He retired because he didn’t want to play for the team. Someone should have explained to him at the time that he would have to pay back the $1.6 million if he did that. Why do the Lions need him? You think he would be some great ambassador for the team if they paid him off? It should have been handled better at the time but at this point it’s best for the Lions to move on.

  3. Before people turn on Johnson, it is very rare for a team to ask a player to return money. That goes for lesser players than Johnson as well.

  4. So he wants money he didn’t earn by retiring early? Tired of these overpaid athletes. He received over 100 million and didn’t honor his contract. 28 hours a year is too much for 500 k? Come on man

  5. “They gave you something and then they take it back.”

    What, you mean like signing a contract to play football, getting paid a large advance on the services you are supposed to provide, and then retiring before you fully earn that advance?

  6. Lions should no longer negotiate with him. He didn’t earn it. They can honor him without him.

  7. There’s no way this guy could ever become a legitimate goodwill ambassador for the Lions. Who’d believe him? He’s made his long term disdain very clear. You reap what you sow. Screw him.

  8. canadaraider says:
    Before people turn on Johnson, it is very rare for a team to ask a player to return money. That goes for lesser players than Johnson as well.

    I don’t care it it’s rare, or even unheard of for a team to ask for money back. Calvin Johnson was paid a huge sum of money as an advance on future services he contractually agreed to provide. When he quit before making any attempt to earn that money the Lions had every legal and moral right to ask for it back. Johnson had no legal or moral right to keep it.
    Period, end of story.

  9. CJ had a hall of fame career… in 9 seasons! to say he didn’t earn the 1.6 is ridiculous. The lions had the right to get the money back but at the end of the day was it worth alienating arguably the best player in franchise history? There’s a reason they haven’t won a playoff game since 1992.

  10. Three important points here:

    1. The Lions couldn’t afford him on the cap, and as his play had started to decline, were about to cut him. If they had cut him, they couldn’t reclaim his signing bonus at all. CJ was doing the team a favor by retiring, as it would’ve been bad PR to cut the greatest WR in their history. But, as Florio said, his agent(s) did a horrible job protecting CJ in his exit.

    2. However, it’s almost unfathomable that the Lions sought to get the signing bonus back. One of the greatest players in their history, that played through incredible injuries on some terrible teams? I can’t imagine that. This is so indicative of why the Lions have been such a terrible franchise for the entire 40 years I’ve been watching football.

    3. The Lions are trying to fix what they did, but they’re in a spot. They want to give him the $1.6M, but they can’t just give it to him. If they just wrote him a check, they’d be paying him for his playing years. Which means it would go against the salary cap. No NFL team is going to absorb a $1.6M hit to their cap for a player who hasn’t played in over five years! This is where CJ has to be reasonable and make some kind of concession to get his money back. I thought what the Lions offered was acceptable, and it make him an employee of the team, so no salary cap ramifications.

    Anyway, both sides look kind of bad, but only the Lions get in these situations with the greatest players. Hopefully their new front office will avoid this going forward.

  11. If you didn’t want to lose part of your signing bonus then you should have played the entire term of your contract.

    If you didn’t want to play for the team then you should have showed up and had a groin or hamstring “injury” day one of camp that forced the team to IR you before the season.

    Don’t blame the Lions blame your agent!

  12. if he is angry at anyone it should be his agent and himself. He had a cap year that year I think over 28 million or more. He was going to get cut if he did not re-negotiate that deal. If he had done nothing, he would have gotten cut and gotten paid. But by retiring, he had to repay part of that signing bonus.

    So Calvin screwed calvin, more or less.
    He can swear at the Lions all he wants, but they have since offered him a lot of money for virtually no actual work–but that’s not good enough? At this point, he is making the Lions look good. And that is saying something.

  13. “I put it like this. Imagine you had a friend — well, maybe not even a friend, just somebody. They gave you something and then they take it back. And then are y’all gonna still really hang out? Are y’all still cool?”

    Imagine you gave somebody $100 up front to do a task for you, and then they bail on you. Are y’all still cool then?

    That’s literally all this boils down to.

    And on top of that, they offered him the money if he worked 84 hours over THREE YEARS. Average Joe works that in 2 weeks. They literally offered him a pay rate of 19k/hr and he has the balls to say he wants it for free.

  14. I will take that offer. I would love to have a part-time job that paid 500k for 28 hours of work per week. wow

  15. Gotta side with the Lions on this one. Johnson comes across as being selfish, petty, and greedy. The Lions even tried to meet him halfway, offering him $500K a year to pose in a few check presentation photos. The Lions are the ones taking the high road here, not Johnson. Don’t go away bitter Calvin, just go away.

  16. I wish I could get 500k for 28 hours of work. The sad part is he couldn’t even do it for the charity aspect.

  17. i can teel you how this ends and it isnt good for Megatron big ego. He doesn’t deserve one cent from them He quit and so they rightly took back his bonus money.

  18. I think CJ comes off as petty in this. I guess players only look at contracts when they can be used in their favor and whine when it doesn’t. It’s too bad CJ continues to be childish and tarnish his image.

  19. I’m sure he has lots of opportunities now to earn approximately $18,000 an hour for 84 hours of work over three years.

    But he’s the aggrieved party.

  20. Surprised to see so many people turn on him. He helped the organization make so much money that the $1.6M should have been left to him.

    And to all of you that are tired of seeing athletes complain about their pay and whatnot, stop watching. The amount of destruction that they put their bodies through and the entertainment we all get from them warrants high pay. Supply and demand.

  21. Another WR, Diva. And I think the Lions had every right to ask money back from a HOF player on their team who quit on them.

  22. This has been a masterful job by Lions PR. Previously, they looked a little petty. The more CJ talks, and these details come out, the more he looks like an idiot. How many Detroit fans would be turning down work that pays $17,800 an hour?

  23. Hey Calvin, let’s say you had a friend to whom you gave money for some services and your “friend” took the money but refused to complete the work. Not much of a friend….

  24. Wait, did they want him to work 28 hrs/week or just 28 hrs/yr? Because if it’s 28 hrs/yr, Johnson needs to understand that is the Lions “just giving the money back”.

  25. It looks like there’s a stickling point of the $100,000 that is being donated to his charity instead of being paid to Johnson.

    Pennywise pound foolish on the Lions end. $100,000 is like a regular person losing a $5 bill to the Lions.

    Calvin is definitely coming across as stubborn/petty, but I can’t think of many franchises that have had struggles with one generational talent let alone two when you consider Barry Sanders.

    Teams rarely ask for money back. Lions did something that teams usually don’t do to lesser players let alone future HOF members. Legally the Lions were allowed to reclaim the money and Johnson probably wishes he wouldn’t have played through some of the nagging injuries he ultimately did.

  26. Great example of how it’s all about how you approach things. If he just acts cordial he probably gets some or all of that in return for almost zero work doing whatever “goodwill” stuff they have in mind. But he goes public and looks really bad and no doubt torpedoes any shot he had.

  27. The guy ruined his body for that team, and was often the sole reason fans came to see the game. The Lions made a fortune off the guy, and the owner is a multi billionaire — yet fans trash the player on the contract theory and support the billionaire owner. Man have owners got the average fan snowed.

  28. Sorry Calvin. You are a true talent. But the organization signed you to x dollars for y years. You did not complete and the Lions had a contractual right to ask for the bonus back.

    Did you expect a thank you basket after you retired?

  29. Many years removed from this situation and it might look like the lions are the proverbial “ good guys “ here… However, Johnson spent his entire career with the lions and they never were competitive. They wouldn’t release or trade him when he quietly requested. He decided to retire instead of sacrifice his body for another losing season. When he retired, they took 1.6 mil out of his signing bonus. That’s a move most franchises wouldn’t have done especially considering the legacy Johnson had in Detroit. The lions were never serious about mending fences with Johnson. If anything, paying him for appearances for his signing bonus money is a slap in the face. If you need any further evidence of how badly the lions treat the faces of their franchise, ask Barry Sanders.

  30. CJ needs a PR team. This is a terrible take… his “if your friend gives you money” comparison is so disconnected from the average Joe.

    He should instead say “I could have hung out for 2 more years, going through the motions and milking injuries for some rest, but instead, I listened to my body, which was telling me it was time to hang them up. I didn’t want to be a distraction to the team. I thought I was doing the right thing. And when the Lions organization decided to claw back my signing bonus, it felt like a slap in the face for doing the right thing.”

    Calvin needs to remind people that there have been a lot of situations where unhappy players go through the motions to finish their career just to get every dime they can. He can say he’s parlayed his playing career and notoriety into a medical marijuana business creating jobs in the area. He’s still a Detroit resident to this day.

    If this was spun the correct way, he’d get more people on his side. You’ll never convince the fans out there that don’t view him as a person and feel he “quit” on the team. He retired, he didn’t quit on anyone. He didn’t ask for a trade. He moved on from the game.

    That being said, I don’t care if the Lions clawed funds back or not. I just think he is handling the situation poorly.

  31. And the Lions could say “We paid Calvin Johnson $114 Million Dollars during his career. For perspective, in 9 years, Calvin made as much money as an average $100K per year worker would make in 1,140 YEARS.”

  32. For some reason, players on the Lions get frustrated and want to leave. Barry Sanders also comes to mind. Could it be that some star players don’t like being with a perennial losing organization that will NEVER win anything?

  33. A better comp would be imagine paying a contractor $1.6mil to build you a house that he never built. Not only that, the guy never showed up at any point to even attempt the build. Yes, I would want that money paid back me & I would use all legal means at my disposal to do so. Are times really that tough for the once highest paid WR in NFL history? His story has changed over the years also. He more recently claimed to have demanded a trade which I doubt because he could have actually forced one by going public & holding out. Now he is peddling dime bags of cannabis or weed oil or some $hit on the Internet for money. The “principal” is you signed a contract that made you a very wealthy man & would have paid even more if you fulfilled all your obligations contained in it. Sadly you fell just short of that & it cost you a tiny percentage of that contracts worth. We’re all working 40, 50, 60 hours a week without a contract & for a hell of a lot less then Lions are offering you. If you really need the cash then take the gig & you can still be miserable but you’ll have the money so desperately seek.

  34. Half a million dollars per year for working 28 hours per year.
    I’d be willing to work for $10,000/hour.
    I’m not proud.
    Time to give the Lions a call.

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