The Detroit Lions and Calvin Johnson have been involved in a rather public dispute since Johnson’s shocking retirement in 2016. He was only halfway through an eight-year contract extension he signed in 2012 worth $132 million, and once the retirement was official, the Lions forced him to repay $1 million of his signing bonus. This past weekend, Johnson told the Detroit Free Press that the only way the Lions can mend the damaged relationship with the former superstar is to give him his money back. They owe him that, and much more.
Johnson is one of the best wide receivers ever, and the second-best to ever put on a Lions uniform, behind only Barry Sanders. He stayed in Detroit his entire career, breaking records left and right along the way. His Hall-of-Fame caliber should probably qualify him for better treatment by itself.
But Johnson was far more than a great player. He was as active in the community as any player in the league. You know where he gave the interview about the Lions taking money out of his pocket? From the football camp he puts on every year for high schoolers in metro Detroit, despite being seven years into retirement. The man cared for the city and the franchise. They return the favor by penny-pinching in a very public manner, then go out and say they want to repair the relationship without actually taking the steps to do so.
Were the Lions within their rights to ask for their money back? Absolutely. Some Lions fans may even say they did the right thing in demanding he returned the money, seeing as he was only halfway through a gigantic contract and could likely still play if he so desired. These are legitimate points. But for the relatively paltry sum of $1 million? Come on. The Lions are one of the least valuable franchises in the league and are ranked #31st out of all NFL franchises. But they’re still valued at $1.7 billion by Forbes. Is asking for significantly less than 1% of 1% of the team’s value worth ruining the franchise’s relationship with their best player of the modern era?
I say it isn’t. Johnson has every right to be upset about this. The Lions owe him far more than simply his money. They owe him an apology as recognition for one of the greatest to play the game, and one of the greatest to play in the city of Detroit. They should probably start right away, before they do even more damage to their image as a franchise.