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The main reason behind the rift seems to be the Lions demanding Johnson pay back a prorated amount of his signing bonus when he retired after the 2015 season. Johnson appeared miffed that the team he helped elevate for years reacted to his retirement by asking for its money back.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Johnson ended up paying back the Lions at least $1 million. Hopefully, that made losing contact with the team’s greatest player of the 21st century worth it for the Lions.
The team has since tried to mend its relationship with Johnson, who outlined what it would take for him to embrace the team again on Saturday.
Calvin Johnson wants his money back from Lions
Speaking with the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett, Johnson explained that all the Lions need to do is pay him back the seven figures they made him return when he retired:
"They already know what they got to do," Johnson told the Free Press at the annual camp he runs for local high school students Saturday in metro Detroit. "The only way they’re going to get me back is they put that money back in my pocket. Nah, you don’t do that. I don’t care what they say. They can put it back, then they can have me back. That’s the bottom line."
Lions president Rod Wood reportedly signaled in May that the team hopes to have a Barry Sanders-esque relationship with Johnson and bring him back before he’s eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2021. Of course, that use of Sanders as a comparison is quite pointed given the Lions went through nearly the same thing with the Hall of Fame running back.
Sanders abruptly retired from a struggling Lions team in 1999, the Lions took him to arbitration over millions in signing bonus money and their relationship was frosty for years as a result. Sanders eventually returned to the team as a paid ambassador, though it’s unclear if the team ever paid him back.
Maybe Johnson will eventually make a similar return, but it’s hard to see him backing down any time in the near future after making such a public challenge to the team’s decision-makers.
In the meantime, Johnson will enjoy his post-retirement business life that includes real estate investments and, possibly soon, a marijuana dispensary.
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