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The Detroit Lions made a major mistake not trading Calvin Johnson

Another blemish on Bob Quinn’s career in Detroit.

San Francisco 49ers v Detroit Lions Photo by Mark Cunningham/Detroit Lions/Getty Images

I know. You’re a bit sick of talking about Calvin Johnson. We are too. The Hall of Fame receiver retired from the Lions after the 2015 season and it seems like we’ve learned something new about the situation every offseason since.

First, it was Calvin upset about the Detroit Lions recouping part of his signing bonus. Then it was “Calvin smokes weed,” “Calvin was tired of losing,” “Calvin’s body is falling part” and more. The new thing is that Johnson may have been trying to seek an alternative to retiring. Last week Johnson had an interview with Woodward Sports Network and he dropped new information that pointed towards the receiver wanting a trade but the Lions blocking it.

This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. As we mentioned early, Johnson has said that he might have kept playing had the Lions been a winning team. Now we know that he may have at least inquired about the Lions allowing him to play somewhere else. Now he didn't exactly say he asked for a trade. Just a month before his final game, he told local media that he did NOT ask for a trade before the deadline. He even said “I love where I’m at right now.”

So Johnson either changed his mind or he planned to inquire about a move after he finished the year with his teammates. Either way, the language Johnson uses in the video makes it seem like he did asked to be moved.

This all brings us to the big question. Did the Lions make a huge mistake blocking Calvin Johnson from a trade? On the surface, it’s a big yes. After all, receivers have been fetching a lot lately. The Vikings got four picks (including a first-round pick that turned into Justin Jefferson) for Stefon Diggs. The Giants got a first and a third for Odell Beckham Jr. The Raiders got a first for Amari Cooper. The Patriots got a first for Brandin Cooks. The Saints also got a first for Cooks, and the Vikings got a first for Percy Harvin. There’s plenty more evidence out there too.

Calvin Johnson is a lot better than all those guys. There’s no doubt the Lions could have got a first and more for Johnson. Teams are willing to move heaven and earth if they think it can make them successful. So if the Lions did indeed block a trade, why did they do it? There’s only two reasons, if you ask me.

Financial issues

Now I did say teams would move heaven and Earth earlier, but if things weren't financially feasible for the Lions, that could have been the reason they blocked the trade. For example, at the time the Lions had the highest combined cap for two players in the entire league with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. They were tying up $38.3 million in cap space for 2015 and were about to tie up $46.5 million in 2016 if Calvin would have stuck around. Though they would have freed up some money by moving Calvin, they still would have incurred a dead cap hit of $12.9 million. That would have meant they would have to pay the best receiver in the NFL a hefty amount to play somewhere else. Still, they would have come out on the winning end of the deal because they wouldn’t have had to take on the rest of Johnson’s mega contract.

Would some other team have been willing to take on that contract? I still just don’t see why any team wouldn’t, especially if that team felt they were a Calvin Johnson away from winning it all.


This is what I’m more afraid of. Consider what we now know about Bob Quinn and company. Quinn came in that offseason as the team’s new GM and it’s likely he had his fingerprints all over the Calvin Johnson situation. One thing we know about Quinn is that he knows he’s the smartest guy in the room.

Here’s my theory: Quinn and company blocked Johnson’s trade request as a negotiation tactic aimed at getting Calvin Johnson to stay. A tactic that backfired miserably. It could also be tactic that the Packers may be employing with Aaron Rodgers. They may fail the same way the Lions did if this was the idea. Rodgers might just go host “Jeopardy” or go “Dancing with the Stars” like Johnson did.

If that’s not it, what is it? Because it’s really hard to understand why the Lions would decide to forgo getting a good haul of draft picks they could use for the future in favor of doing nothing and alienating a Hall of Fame receiver to save some cash. Why did the Lions have no problem granting Matthew Stafford a trade? Would Brad Holmes have moved Johnson? These are questions we’ll never know the answer to. But from the armchair I’m sitting in, the Lions really burned themselves when they blocked Calvin Johnson from moving on.