It’s impossible to know whether a move away from Detroit would have extended either legendary player’s career. What we do know: things are not good between Johnson and his former franchise, even years after his final game. A main issue: Detroit’s insistence on making him pay back a chunk of his signing bonus when he stepped away.
The Detroit Lions offered to pay back the $1.6 million, in the form of three $500,000 payments along with a $100,000 donation to a charity of Johnson’s choice. In return, Johnson would have to work 28 hours per year for the team. When asked about the proposal by Graham Bensinger, he said it was “not really an effort” to resolve the issues between the two sides, referring to it as a “joke.”
The issue may be even more complex, though. According to Jeremy Reisman of Pride of Detroit, the Lions can’t just pay Johnson back without running afoul of the NFL’s salary cap rules.
This is why it’s hard to see a resolution of any type.
Calvin Johnson refuses to put in extra work to get his $1.6 million back, but the Lions’ hands are tied, because they can’t just hand the money back without breaking cap rules. https://t.co/NPFeEXZILR
— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) September 15, 2021
Johnson’s retirement, and the subsequent demand for the $1.6 million back, helped the team get under the cap at the time, according to ProFootballTalk. The NFL would be allowing a pretty tough precedent if it let Detroit pay Johnson years later without an impact on the cap.
At the same time, it shows a lack of foresight by the team. Johnson is one of the most accomplished players to ever put on a Lions jersey. It’s hard to think they couldn’t have worked out a better deal to get under the cap than this one, which alienated a future Hall of Famer. Teams find creative salary cap solutions every single year, especially with long time veterans.
It’s the principle. It’s the principle of it. You cannot have me back unless you put that money back in my pocket,” Calvin Johnson said of the Lions. “I’m not working for it.”
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