Calvin Johnson's abrupt retirement following the 2016 season is still a little hard to believe. The NFL Hall of Famer was only 30 years-old when he hung up the cleats and still had a lot left in the tank, catching 88 passes for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns in his final year.
As the years have gone on, we've slowly gained slivers of insight into why he made the decision he did. Most of it had to do with his rocky relationship with the Lions organization, which is still rather frosty even after the Lions essentially apologized for forcing him to give back some of the guaranteed money he was owed following his retirement.
We got some more of that insight when Johnson spoke with the Woodward Sports Network as a promotion for his new cannabis company. The receiver known as Megatron revealed he asked the Lions to either trade him or cut him so he could go play somewhere else. He was done with Detroit and wanted to leave, but they said no. So he just retired instead. Per Woodward Sports:
“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,” said Johnson. “I’m not mad at Matthew; I love Matthew.”
The Hook co-host Tom Mazawey then asked Johnson if he would’ve gone to the Oakland Raiders, and that’s when Johnson chuckled and replied, “Man, I would’ve went anywhere.”
Johnson stated when it was time for him to retire, he asked the Lions front office if they would allow him to move on. And they denied his request.
“We asked would they release me or let me go to another team,” said Johnson. “They wouldn’t.”
As if we needed any more reason to blame the franchise for tanking the career of another all-time great. The Lions were obviously under no obligation to grant Johnson his wish, but you just don't play hardball like that with one of the best players to ever put on a Detroit uniform, hard stop. Trading or releasing Johnson would have been a tough pill to swallow from a PR perspective, to be sure. But they either didn't understand or didn't care that retirement was a very real threat, and Johnson followed through.
An all-time what-if case. What if the rumors were true and Johnson ended up a Patriot? Or if he went to Oakland just in time for Derek Carr to start rounding into form? How history could have been changed.