Calvin Johnson retired from the NFL in March of 2016, and it’s now being reported that he was forced to repay at least $1 million of his signing bonus to the Detroit Lions.
That figure is three times the amount as originally believed ($320,000) per NFLPA records.
Via ESPN – Johnson made a seven-figure payback to the Lions, the source said. At the time of Johnson’s retirement, the franchise could have tried to recoup up to $3.2 million from Johnson — the remaining prorated part of his signing bonus from the contract extension he signed in 2012 — based on the collective bargaining agreement.
The Detroit Free Press first reported the higher amount paid back by Johnson.
When Johnson retired, the Lions said in a release that any issues with his contract were handled “to the satisfaction of both parties,” meaning Johnson and the Lions. But in December, Johnson told ESPN, “I just wish that it ended a little bit differently. That’s all you’re getting because that’s going to be too big of a headline.”
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Johnson told ESPN at the time that he had no regrets about what happened on the field or any bad relationships with players and that he walked out of the league on his own.
Then last month, Johnson told the Free Press he “didn’t feel like I was treated the way I should have been treated on the way out. That’s all. I mean, it’s all good. I’m not tripping. I don’t feel any kind of way, just hey, that’s what they did. Hey, it is what it is.”
Later in May, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he was concerned when he heard Johnson was not happy. Caldwell said he believed over time that the Lions and Johnson would be able to work out their apparent differences, comparing it to family squabbles.
“Playing in the National Football League for a team, it’s like a family,” Caldwell said. “Families sometimes have disagreements. They look at things a little differently. I have grown children. Sometimes we look at things a little differently. We hash them out, talk them out. There’s dialogue, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love them. But we get the differences worked out.
“I think the same thing will happen in this situation. Maybe there’s a disagreement, a little different viewpoint, but the most important thing, I think, is perhaps this whole thing will bring about a little more dialogue.”
Caldwell said he has exchanged text messages with Johnson but had not, at that point, spoken with him on the phone.
Johnson, who is the Lions’ all-time leader in receptions (731), receiving yards (11,619) and receiving touchdowns (83) did not immediately return a message from ESPN on Wednesday.
When Johnson retired, he did not hold a news conference and did not talk to anyone in the media until June 2016 at the camp he runs for kids. He has said multiple times he has no plans of coming out of retirement and has been enjoying retired life.
This isn’t the first time the Lions have bickered with a former star over a signing bonus after the player retired. Barry Sanders and the Lions went to arbitration about repaying part of his signing bonus after the running back retired on the eve of training camp in 1999. A league arbitrator ruled that Sanders had to pay back $5.5 million of his $11 million signing bonus in installments if he stayed retired. The rift between Sanders and the Lions lasted for years before he was brought back into the fold recently.