If you were hoping the Detroit Lions and Calvin Johnson would have put aside their differences and mended their relationship by now, then I am the bearer of bad news today.
Johnson joined SiriusXM NFL Radio on Friday, and was very clear that the issues he had with the Lions remain unresolved, and Detroit has done little to repair the damage.
Asked whether the Lions have reached out to try and mend those fences, Johnson said, “Ahh … no. They say they have, but no.”
The dispute reportedly stems from the fact that when Johnson retired after the 2015 season, the Detroit Lions asked that he pay back $1 million from his signing bonus in an effort to clear up some cap room. The Lions—by the law of the league—could have asked for up to $3.2 million back, however it is common courtesy for teams not to touch signing bonuses, even in cases of early retirement. That being said, recouping that money is far from unprecedented—in fact, this year the Packers are attempting to reclaim Martellus Bennett’s signing bonus after cutting him due to failure to disclose an injury. But, of course, it was highly publicized how sour the relationship quickly became between Green Bay and Bennett.
And that’s because, in part, it still remains somewhat looked down upon to go after a player’s signing bonus, which—as Dave Birkett notes—is the most sacred part of the player’s contract.
Now, forgive me for a moment, but this is where this article turns into an editorial, because I can’t hold it in any longer.
Regardless of whose side your on in this dispute, the fact that the Lions have yet to reach out and try to fix this relationship is embarrassing. This is one of the most iconic players to ever play in the Honolulu Blue and you can’t make a phone call to try to come to an understanding? Mind you, I’m not asking the Lions to give Calvin his million dollars back. Just talk to the guy. Even better, meet him face-to-face. Pay for his lunch. Talk.
This is a guy who gave you his physical health and his full cooperation, despite the fact that the game was killing him and the team was consistently failing. He never went public with any discontent during his playing years. He never gave up on the field. He was, by every teammate’s account, one of the hardest working and most loyal players in the locker. Sure, that’s what you paid him for, and you paid him a hell of a lot to do it, but he gave you and your organization respect, when plenty of others who played the game didn’t.
And when he finally rode off into the sunset with a fair amount of discontent for the team, you did nothing. You let one of the team’s most iconic figures walk out the door without the slightest offering of an olive branch. You met his unconditional respect with a dismissive turning of the cheek.
To be completely fair to the Lions, according to team president Rod Wood, he did keep in contact with Johnson after the initial dispute via “cordial” texts. Per Wood’s account, he even offered an invitation to training camp before the 2017 season. Johnson, obviously, did not show up to camp.
But if this is the Lions’ effort to mend relations—with a few well-meaning texts—it’s no wonder that Johnson is still somewhat miffed. Forgive me for sounding like a grandparent, but couldn’t you pick up the phone once and give the NFL’s single-season leader in receiving yards a moment of your time?
We went through this all once before with Barry Sanders, and, yeah, eventually things got worked out. Maybe all this needs is a little more time. But, for now, it’s another embarrassing mark on a franchise littered with them.
I can take the losses. In fact, that’s all I’ve ever known with this Lions team, so I’ve grown accustomed to weathering that storm.
But it’s much harder for me to swallow the way this franchise has conducted business in the past few decades. Barry, Levy and now Calvin. These are players that should be synonymous with some of the greatest memories in Lions history. But thanks to the organization’s conduct, they come with heavy baggage, emotional scars and national embarrassment.