Calvin Johnson Says Playing for Lions Factored Into His Decision to Retire

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2017

In this Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015 photo, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) warms ups before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers at Ford Field in Detroit. Johnson says NFL players could get painkillers like they were
Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson admitted the franchise's struggles to build a consistent winner factored into his decision to retire after only nine NFL seasons.

"Of course, I thought about it. Just like in basketball, you know, guys, they create these superteams. But it's not quite like that in football where I had the freedom just to go," Johnson told reporters in Italy last week.

"I was stuck in my contract with Detroit, and they told me, they would not release my contract, so I would have to come back to them. I didn't see the chance for them to win a Super Bowl at the time, and for the work I was putting in, it wasn't worth my time to keep on beating my head against the wall and not going anywhere. It's the definition of insanity." 

Johnson, a six-time Pro Bowler and likely future Hall of Famer, retired after the 2015 season at the age of 30. His decision in some ways mirrored that of Barry Sanders, the former Lions running back who walked away during his prime in part due to dissatisfaction over the team's inability to contend.

Johnson previously said injuries were the overarching factor in his decision to retire. While he never missed more than three games in an NFL season, Johnson missed time in five of his nine years with the Lions and played through a multitude of other injuries. 

Mostly silent on the matter during the 2016 season, Johnson has been increasingly open about his displeasure with the franchise in recent months. He told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press in May that he was unhappy with how the Lions handled his retirement.  

"I don’t even like to talk Lions too much just because the way our relationship ended," Johnson said when asked if he could see his jersey being retired. "If they see me around here, we’ll see. But hey, I don’t know.

"I just 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 is."

The Lions, as they did with Sanders, forced Johnson to pay back part of his signing bonus he was given as part of his contract with the team. He reportedly paid the team at least $1 million, per Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.