Dave Birkett, Lions writer for the Detroit Free Press, interviewed Calvin Johnson on Saturday during his Catching Dreams camp—a rare instance where the former Lions wide receiver opened up about the end of his NFL career, spent entirely in Detroit.
The article has plenty on the life of Johnson after his time dominating the league as Megatron, but the quotes quickly making the rounds on social media and sports coverage is about the end of his time with the Detroit Lions. In particular, while reaffirming that health was the primary factor in deciding his retirement, he hinted towards trouble between the Lions organization and himself near the end, although he refused to go into specifics.
"I don’t even like to talk Lions too much just because the way our relationship ended," Johnson said when asked about his No. 81 being retired. "If they see me around here, we’ll see. But hey, I don’t know.
"I just didn’t feel like I was treated the way I should have been treated on the way out. That’s all. I mean, it’s all good. I’m not tripping. I don’t feel any kind of way, just hey, that's what they did. Hey, it is what is."
Asked to explain how he was treated, Johnson declined to go into specifics.
"I mean, it’s simple," he said. "It’s simple. It’s easy when you think about it."
In his article, and also speculated on by ProFootballTalk, Dave Birkett posits that the issue between Calvin Johnson and the Lions may stem from the fact that the Lions forced Johnson to repay a portion of his $3.2 million signing bonus when he decided to retire in the offseason with one year still remaining on his contract.
This practice is nothing unique to the Lions—although it’s certainly going to feed directly into narratives about how the Lions are a bad franchise and contributed to the premature end of Johnson’s career and some such—but it’s still no kind of business anyone wants to be seen caught in the middle of. The superstar nature of Calvin Johnson certainly doesn’t help matters. It’s a matter that could have been easily avoided; particularly when it could be a question of money, something no NFL club is strapped for.
Of course, this is still speculation, but the money remains an obvious candidate for bad blood at this point. However, Johnson also mentioned that such incidents are past him now, and it doesn’t seem like he’s holding any grudges against Detroit.
Johnson, by the way, also restated the obvious: he’s happy with retirement and doesn’t mull any prospects of returning to the NFL. Keep dreaming, y’all.