On March 8, 2016, Calvin Johnson officially retired from the NFL. After his decision, players and teams from all over the NFL took to social media to pay their respects to the future Hall of Famer. From an outsider’s perspective, Johnson’s departure was handled in all the right ways. But we did not know the whole story.
Fast forward to May 20, 2017, Johnson was interviewed by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press and Johnson was not too happy with his former team.
“I don’t even like to talk Lions too much just because the way our relationship ended,” Johnson said when asked about his No. 81 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.”
Jeff Howe, New England Patriots beat reporter for the Boston Herald, presented one clear point as to why Johnson could have been frustrated with the Lions.
Lions made Calvin Johnson repay $320k of signing bonus upon retirement.
Pats never asked Reggie Wayne to repay his $400k SB after he quit. https://t.co/9utHh3avSd
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) May 22, 2017
Let’s be real right now. There are MANY reasons why the Lions should apologize to Johnson. Johnson gave his team eight incredible seasons and the Lions never played past the first round of the playoffs. In his second year in the league, the Lions made history as they were the first team to finish 0-16. Johnson led wide receivers with 12 receiving touchdowns that year, but the winless season overshadowed that. Over Johnson’s career, the Lions were a combined 54-90, only gloating two Wild Card playoff appearances.
The Lions fell to the Saints in 2012 and the Cowboys in 2015. Both losses had the same story: there was not enough defense. The Saints put up a whopping 45 and the Cowboys scored 10 unanswered in the fourth to win 24-20. Johnson’s talent alone deserved to be seen in a Super Bowl atmosphere, but the Lions could not produce.
Johnson had to endure six different quarterbacks in his time with the Lions. He finally saw some consistency after the Lions drafted Matthew Stafford at no. 1 in the 2009 draft. I absolutely love Stafford and he was the best thing to happen to this team since Johnson, but their talent was wasted by poor coaching and defenses.
Johnson played for three different coaches in his time with the Lions. Don’t get me wrong, a losing season is not all the coach’s fault, but a good coach produces a good team. When the Lions hired Jim Schwartz in 2009, Lions fans were in for a rollercoaster. The Lions had good talent in Schwartz’s years, but could not capitalize due to various amounts of penalties in games. Schwartz could not get a handle on his team’s conduct and did not set a good example after he got into a scuffle with then San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh after a loss in 2011.
Jim Caldwell was nabbed head coach in 2014 and led his team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. Detroit fans rode him to a Wild Card matchup with the Cowboys. The Lions held a 20-17 lead midway through the fourth when things went wrong. The Lions blew their lead and fans will look back at that game and blame the referees and Caldwell for the loss.
After talking negative about the Lions, I will say that Johnson was not perfect. He struggled with injuries throughout his career that led him to his early retirement. I remember when he would sit out practices all week due to various ankle, knee and hand injuries but yet play on Sunday because he wanted so badly to win. Johnson also admitted in the interview with Birkett that he hid concussions from the team doctors.
I say all of this to show that the Lions mistreated Johnson in more ways than one. He deserved to be on a better team but was too loyal to the Lions. Props to him for never leaving his team to chase a ring, even though he probably should have.
One question will always remain– If the Lions were better, would Johnson still be playing?
I do not want to know the answer.