Calvin Johnson

Calvin Johnson Speaks About His Retirement, Legacy

Calvin Johnson made the surprising decision to hang up his cleats at the end of the 2015 season, but teams were still interested in his services as late as last year’s trade deadline. It never seemed like a real possibility that he would return to the field, however, and in an excellent interview with Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Johnson opened up on his struggles to tell then-Lions head coach Jim Caldwell about his decision, his relationship with the team, and whether he would change anything about his playing career. The whole interview is well-worth a read, but we have pulled out some of the notable nuggets below:

On his decision to retire:

Johnson told Birkett he was prepared to retire after the 2014 season, as he had achieved both of the goals he had set for himself when he entered the league: to play 10 NFL seasons and to surpass 10,000 receiving yards. But his father convinced him to stick around for one more year. Johnson said, “I told (my father), I was like, ‘Dad, I don’t think I can do it no more.’ I was like, ‘I don’t think I can keep on coming out there running miles a day.’ He said, he was like, ‘You think you can get one more?’ I thought about it. … I was like, ‘All right, I can do it one more time.’”

On informing Caldwell of his decision:

“I was so stressed out. I was thinking about that more in the last three games [of the 2015 season] than anything else. I was like, ‘Dang, man. How the hell am I going to tell Coach?’ I asked my dad, asked my sister. And I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll just tell him like right before the last game. I’ll like go to his office on Friday, or tell him like Saturday night before the game.’ And I was like, ‘Dang, (I can’t). That’s just a big ass distraction right before the game.’ It was actually tough to actually say it, to spit the words out. But when I finally told him it was like a burden off my chest like no other. I was like, ‘man, I’m free. I ain’t got to be stressing this (stuff) no more.'” 

On his strained relationship with the Lions:

Johnson was famously required to pay back a seven-figure portion of his signing bonus when he elected to retire, which has unsurprisingly led to tension between him and the club. Once Johnson told Caldwell he was going to retire — he ultimately waited until his exit meeting a few days after the 2015 season finale — Caldwell immediately summoned Lions interim general manager Sheldon White and president Rod Wood. Johnson said, “It had to surprise [Caldwell], ’cause then he told me to wait around and he got the GM and stuff. But I knew there was going to be a problem once [Wood] talked to me and the first thing out of his mouth was like, ‘Did you earn all your bonus?’ I was like, ‘Oh, s***.’ I knew right then it was going to be a problem. I was like, ‘All right, I see how it’s going to be.’” 

Aside from that statement, however, Johnson indicated he did not wish to discuss the relationship between him and the team or if it can eventually be repaired.

On whether he could still play if he wanted to:

“I don’t (think so), man, cause I get up from the bed sometimes in the morning, I’m just like, I shuffle across the ground cause I can’t bend my ankles. That was my problem when I played, just ankle’s always stuck or swelled up, I can’t flex them. If you can’t flex your ankles then you’re just running flat-footed all the time.”

On his Hall of Fame candidacy:

“People don’t like that I didn’t play a long time, but hey, it is what it is. I mean, I was the fastest to 10,000 yards, I had the most yards in an actual regulation game. I did some things, but if it’s not enough, it’s not enough. I’m not going to lose sleep over it.”

On whether he has any regrets:

“It was my time. It was my time.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Calvin Johnson Not Interested In Return To NFL

Former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson shocked the NFL when he retired following the 2015 season at the age of 30. The three-time First Team All-Pro selection announced last week that he has no intention of returning to the field, the Sporting News’ and SiriusXM’s Alex Marvez writesCalvin Johnson (vertical)

During the 2017 season, there were reports of teams pursuing Johnson but he is happy to spend time with his family.

Don’t expect to see him coaching on the sidelines anytime soon either. The six-time Pro Bowl wideout said: “Coaching just takes up too much time,” Johnson said. “I got to the building pretty early when I was playing and coaches were already there and they leave after the players. As far as spending time with family, that’s what I was looking forward to.”

If he does make a return to the game in either capacity, don’t expect it to be with the Lions. The relationship between the team and Johnson is still fractured after the team demanded $1MM be returned from a 2012 signing bonus. Johnson ultimately gave the money back but the gesture severed ties between the two parties. Though Detroit has reportedly made attempts to salvage the relationship, Johnson has denied any contact has been made.

Since retiring in 2015, Johnson has served as a consultant around the league and has worked with receivers in Oakland and Miami. In nine NFL seasons, Johnson recorded 731 receptions for 11,619 yards and led the league in receiving yards in back-to-back seasons in 2011-12.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jaguars, Eagles Interested In Calvin Johnson?

As of this writing, wide receiver Calvin Johnson is still retired. But, if he decided to play again, it sounds like the Lions would be open to trading his rights between now and Tuesday’s deadline. If Megatron can be coaxed out of retirement, the Jaguars would have interest in acquiring him, ESPN.com’s Chris Mortensen (video link) hears. The “speculation” is that the Eagles would also be among those to look into acquiring Johnson. Calvin Johnson (vertical)

Even if Johnson does have the itch to play again, there would be a number of hurdles for all parties to work through. The wide receiver’s contract runs through 2019 and includes a cap number $21MM for this year. He’ll also have to pass a physical on the first try and that’s not a slam dunk given how long he has been away from the game.

Any team getting into bed with Megatron will also want to know that he is firmly committed to playing football. He has been asked about a potential return at various points but has denied any interest.

I’m not coming back, man,” Johnson said back in December. “Look, man. I got stuff that’s going to hurt for the rest of my life. I got a finger that’s literally bone-on-bone. This bad boy, it gets smaller. The more and more I do, it grinds bone-on-bone. Literally from last year, I went this year to get another X-Ray and this is after I retired, I knew it was messed up but I didn’t know to what degree because it was hurt.”

The 7-1 Eagles could use a pass catcher like Johnson, but they might want to put their resources towards acquiring a left tackle instead. The 4-3 Jaguars, meanwhile, have already taken on a sizable contract by acquiring former Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Trade Rumors: Megatron, Bryant, Staley

We heard earlier today that the Seahawks are still trying to trade for a veteran left tackle, and they are willing to part with TE Jimmy Graham in order to facilitate such a deal. With the league’s trade deadline just two days away, let’s take a look at more trade rumors from around the league:

  • Two teams have called the Lions to discuss acquiring the rights to retired WR Calvin Johnson, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, and Detroit told those clubs to go ahead and reach out to the future Hall-of-Famer. However, Johnson has been noncommittal at best, so it does not seem as if he will change his decision to remain retired, which he reiterated just two months ago.
  • We learned yesterday that the Lions are shopping TE Eric Ebron, and according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Detroit is receiving inquiries from multiple teams about Ebron. Per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter link), Ebron has admitted that he could be dealt.
  • The Steelers are ignoring Martavis Bryant‘s trade request and plan to continue ignoring it, according to Albert Breer of SI.com, which makes it sound as if Pittsburgh is going to try and make things work with its disgruntled but talented wideout. However, that has not stopped contending teams from inquiring on Bryant, according to Rapoport (video link), who suggests that the Steelers are willing to at least listen to offers. The Patriots are one potential landing spot, as they discussed trading for Bryant prior to the draft.
  • The Eagles are another club looking for offensive line help at the deadline, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, who names the 49ers‘ Joe Staley as one possibility. Indeed, La Canfora writes in a separate pice that the 49ers are open to trading veterans like Staley, Carlos Hyde, and Eric Reid, but other teams say that the new regime in San Francisco values such players more highly than the market dictates, thereby making a deal unlikely.
  • Despite the fact that the Bills have jumped out to a surprisingly strong start, La Canfora says the team is still willing to move some of its veteran pieces. However, it has already been reported that Cordy Glenn and Anquan Boldin are available, and La Canfora does not add any other names to the list of Bills who could be on the move.
  • Per Schefter (via Twitter), the Colts are receiving inquiries on CB Vontae Davis, and they have been in talks with at least two clubs about the Illinois product.
  • John Reid of the Florida Times-Union says the Jaguars could look to trade RB T.J. Yeldon, but it is unclear whether there has been any movement on that front.
  • Because of the playing time that Chris Smith has received with the Bengals this season, the Jaguars will get a 2018 seventh-round pick from Cincinnati per the conditions of the trade the two clubs completed in April, as Mike Kaye of First Coast News tweets.

Extra Points: Matthews, Megatron, Wheaton

Although the Eagles dealt Jordan Matthews rather than make him part of their large recent group of extension signees, Howie Roseman said the trade wouldn’t preclude the team from re-signing Matthews as a free agent, Eliot Shorr-Parks tweets. Whether Matthews would consider a return to Philadelphia after this is another story. The Bills wideout is one of many notable receivers entering contract years. He joins fellow Friday traded pass-catcher Sammy Watkins, along with DeAndre Hopkins and fellow 2014 draftees Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Donte Moncrief as a prospective UFA.

The Bills have a revamped wide receiver corps, having traded Watkins and observed Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin leave in free agency, so it would stand to reason they’d want to keep Matthews past 2017. But the acquisitions of Matthews and E.J. Gaines may have been secondary to the second- and third-round draft choices received, so Buffalo’s strategy with the newly acquired players will be interesting.

Here’s the latest from around the league as preseason’s first week wraps up.

  • Teams have reportedly attempted to lure Calvin Johnson out of retirement, but the Lions still have the rights to Megatron if he were to return. But the timing of a Johnson comeback could affect where he’d end up. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes Johnson could put the Lions in a tough spot by notifying the NFL he intends to come back now. Operating under the premise Megatron was retired, the Lions have barely $7MM in cap space. Florio posits a Johnson comeback could get him to free agency — and teams he may believe have a better shot at contention — since his $16MM salary would hit the Lions’ payroll and force the team to act quickly to get in line with the cap. A trade or release would get Johnson out of Detroit, something he may not mind in a comeback scenario given the comments he made this offseason. The potential Hall of Famer turns 32 in September.
  • This probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but it appears Patrick Mahomes has leapfrogged Tyler Bray on the Chiefs‘ depth chart after their first preseason game, Adam Teicher of ESPN.com reports. Despite the rare first-round investment from a franchise that spent a generation signing free agent quarterbacks or trading for them, the Chiefs first installed Mahomes as their third-stringer to start camp.
  • Injuries are again affecting Markus Wheaton‘s status. The Bears wideout missed over a week of camp because of an emergency appendectomy and didn’t return until Saturday, but the fifth-year pass-catcher now has a broken pinkie finger sidelining him, Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com reports. John Fox doesn’t have a return timetable for Wheaton. The Bears signed three veteran wideouts to one-year deals, but Wheaton received more of a commitment than Kendall Wright or Victor Cruz. Wheaton is guaranteed $6MM in 2017 as part of his two-year contract. Dickerson adds the Bears still envision a large role for Wheaton, who missed 13 games last season due to a shoulder injury.
  • The Jets drafted safeties with their first two picks, leading to a shakeup this offseason. But one of their second-stringers may not be playing for them for a while — if at all — in 2017. Second-year safety Doug Middleton is expected to undergo surgery after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in Gang Green’s first preseason game, Manish Mehta and Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News report. Middleton and Rontez Miles were running with the Jets’ second team behind Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. An ex-UDFA, Middleton will seek a second opinion, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post (on Twitter). The Jets signed safety Robenson Therezie earlier Sunday, a sign they believe they may be a man short going forward.

Teams Pursuing Calvin Johnson

Calvin Johnson says he’s done with football, but that’s not stopping teams from going after the wide receiver. At least six teams have reached out to Megatron to gauge his interest in a return to the field, but so far Johnson has said no, sources tell Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report. Calvin Johnson (vertical)

[RELATED: Did Lions’ Losing Pushed Johnson Towards Retirement?]

Freeman’s report does not list specific teams, but one has to imagine that there’s some overlap between this list of six mystery teams and the clubs that Johnson has visited this offseason. Over the past few months, Johnson has served as a guest coach/lecturer with the Dolphins and Raiders. He has not stopped in to see the Lions, however.

If Johnson has a change of heart and decides to return, any team looking to sign him will have to go through the Lions since they still hold his rights. Still, we know that it’s not an impossible hurdle since the Raiders were able to work out a trade with the Seahawks for the previously retired Marshawn Lynch.

In 2015, his last season on the field, Johnson had 88 catches for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns. His performance earned him his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl nod.

Megatron will celebrate his 32nd birthday in September.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Johnson, Lions, Browns, Ravens

Former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has hinted that Detroit’s long string of failure played a role in his retirement, and he reiterated that sentiment last week, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press“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,” Johnson said. “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.”

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk details, the Lions and new general manager Bob Quinn may have misled Johnson into thinking he’d be forced to stick with Detroit in 2016. While Johnson says the Lions wouldn’t have released him from his contract, Detroit almost surely would have had to make some sort of adjustment to Johnson’s cap charge, which would have totaled $24MM. By convincing him to retire, the Lions saved more than $11MM on its 2016 salary cap.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • Hue Jackson is expected to receive a long leash as head coach of the Browns, and likely won’t be fired even if the club struggles again in 2017, writes Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. As I wrote in today’s review of the Browns’ offseason, Cleveland is in the midst of a full-scale rebuild, and the team’s ownership and front office is aware that Jackson isn’t leading a top-notch roster. As Cabot notes, the Browns will likely be starting rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer for the majority of the season, so growing pains are to be expected. While improvement over last year’s 1-15 mark is to be expected, Jackson won’t be blamed if Cleveland doesn’t come near playoff contention.
  • Before opting to sign with the Ravens this spring, safety Tony Jefferson used a creative method to determine if he’d fit with Baltimore’s roster. “I had to personally go on NFL Game Pass and watch tape and film before I made a decision,” said Jefferson, per Max Mayer of NFL.com. “I felt like this defense fits me. I feel like this style fits me. I love to hit, and do that type of stuff. And I think that’s the culture, and that’s what I want to be a part of.” Jefferson left Arizona to ink a four-year, $34MM deal with the Ravens, where he’ll team with fellow defensive back Eric Weddle.
  • In case you missed it, PFR’s Zach Links examined the possibility of a deal between the Steelers and franchise-tagged running back Le’Veon Bell. If the two side don’t reach an extension by July 17, Bell will play out the season on a fully guaranteed one-year pact worth $12MM+.

Extra Points: Jets, Kap, OBJ, Megatron

The Jets moved on from linebacker David Harris and wide receiver Eric Decker solely for financial reasons, reports Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Jets owner Woody Johnson, realizing that the team wasn’t going to compete this year even with Harris and Decker, decided it would make more sense to save $13.75MM than spend it on the two veterans. Committing to a rebuild is a commendable approach, writes Mehta, though he questions the way the Jets handled the Harris situation. Jets bigwigs assured Harris back in March that he’d return to the team for an 11th year, but they then approached him about a pay cut 72 hours before releasing him, per Mehta. Johnson’s desire to save money drove that decision, and Harris is now looking for work at a time when free agency has died down. Harris’ agents complained Tuesday that the Jets didn’t just release the defender over the winter, as doing so probably would’ve led to a stronger market for his services.

As for two of Johnson’s highest-ranking employees, general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles, they should be in line to return in 2018 if the rebuilding club’s young players progress this year, writes Mehta. But Brian Costello of the New York Post passes along somewhat different information, relaying that Maccagnan will probably stay on but that “Bowles is viewed as a goner by nearly everyone.” Talent-wise, the deck is stacked against Bowles as he enters his third season with the Jets and the penultimate year of his contract. “They have the worst roster in the league and it’s not close,” one executive told Costello. Harris’ release added another hole to the roster, and his exit hit Bowles “hard,” according to Costello.

  • Colin Kaepernick‘s inability to find a job as a backup quarterback continues to be a popular topic, and one of his friends, Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, weighed in on the matter after Seattle signed Austin Davis instead of Kaepernick. “The organizations, they’re going to be giving the younger guys the first and second look. They know what Colin can do,” Baldwin told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “They know he’s a starter in this league. They’re going to give every opportunity for the young guys to compete, show their talents, and then whatever falls he’ll get his opportunities once all this dust settles.” While many believe Kaepernick is unemployed largely because the then-49er refused to stand for the national anthem last season, Baldwin doesn’t see that as a significant factor. “To some degree, but I think that’s really minor,” Baldwin said. “There are 32 teams out there. Not all of them really care about that. I have no doubt in my mind he’ll have a job here rather quickly.”
  • With one report suggesting that Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. hasn’t attended OTAs because he wants a raise, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk contends that it would likely take a multiyear deal with at least $30MM guaranteed to lock him up. Meanwhile, Steve Serby of the New York Post proposes a six-year, $103.5MM contract – including $47.5MM guaranteed – that would make Beckham the game’s highest-paid wideout.
  • Contrary to a prior report, Calvin Johnson did not repay the Lions $320K of his $3.2MM signing bonus when he retired in March 2016. The former receiver actually forked over a much larger sum, at least $1MM, according to Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.

Extra Points: Megatron, Young, Sam, Jets

Former Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has been observing Raiders practices this week as a guest of offensive coordinator Todd Downing, per Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com. Downing was on Detroit’s staff from 2009-13 – a large portion of Johnson’s career – and while it’s fun to imagine Megatron coming out of retirement to join the Raiders’ high-octane attack, there’s no indication he has any interest in doing so.

More from around the game:

  • Johnson may not be coming out of retirement, but former NFL quarterback Vince Young is returning to the gridiron. Young, who retired in 2014, signed Thursday with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, agent Leigh Steinberg announced (Twitter link). The 34-year-old Young, a former superstar at the University of Texas and the 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Titans, hasn’t attempted a regular-season pass in the professional ranks since he was a member of the Eagles in 2011.
  • An openly gay player has never played a regular-season NFL game, and it’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future, former Eagles/Browns executive and current ESPN analyst Joe Banner told SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this week (via Sporting News’ Alex Marvez). Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is the only openly gay player ever drafted, having gone in the seventh round in 2014, but he encountered a media firestorm during his stints with the Rams and the Cowboys during the preseason that year. The media attention that accompanied his short time in the league has likely made teams “a little more hesitant” to welcome an openly gay player, says Banner. For their part, the Browns didn’t regard Sam’s sexuality as an issue, according to Banner.
  • Collette Smith will become the first woman to ever join the Jets’ coaching staff, reports Leonard Greene of the New York Daily News. Smith, who’s a coach and marketing executive with the New York Sharks of the Independent Women’s Football League, will work as a preseason intern with the Jets’ defensive backs during training camp. “I’m over the top. I’m humbled and I’m proud,” said Smith. “This could have happened with any NFL team. But it just so happened that it was with my beloved New York Jets. This is bigger because of that. God forbid it would have been with the Patriots. But I still would have done it.”
  • Vice president of player personnel Adam Peters was one of the driving forces behind the 49ers’ drafting of former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, writes Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. Before Peters’ hiring in January, general manager John Lynch asked the former Broncos executive whom he’d select with the 49ers’ first-round pick (No. 2 overall). “Without hesitation, he said ‘Reuben Foster,'” stated Lynch. The draft didn’t quite work out the way Peters imagined it then, as the Niners ultimately traded down to third overall and selected ex-Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas with that choice. But San Francisco ended up getting Foster at the end of Round 1, after it moved up to No. 31 overall. “A lot has transpired then and (Peters) loved Solomon Thomas, too, I don’t want to get that mistaken,” said Lynch. “But he was a huge champion of Reuben Foster. Like I said, so much transpired from there to there. But (Peters) was big on that one. I know that.”

NFC Rumors: Megatron, Vikings, Redskins

Calvin Johnson said again Saturday he is not coming back to football, and the potential Hall of Fame wide receiver didn’t like the way his relationship with the Lions concluded when he retired in March 2016.

I just didn’t feel like I was treated the way I should have been treated on the way out. That’s all,” Johnson said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “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.”

Johnson declined to go into specifics regarding this. Birkett points out the Lions attempted to recoup some of Megatron’s signing bonus, reporting Johnson paid $320K — one-tenth of the $3.2MM the Lions could have collected under the CBA — when he retired. The parties agreed to a reduced payment last year, Birkett notes. This retirement unfolded smoother than Barry Sanders‘ did in 1999. The Lions filed a grievance against the Hall of Fame running back, and he paid the team back in installments.

Johnson also alluded to a conversation he had with the team regarding the reason he was retiring. Last year, the receiver did say it would have been harder to follow through with the early-retirement plan if the Lions were in a better position to compete. But he maintained this NFL exit centered around his health.

They told me they wouldn’t trade me if I came back and stuff like that, but it wasn’t about that,” Johnson said, via Birkett. “It was about how I felt.”

Here’s the latest from the NFC.

  • Mike Zimmer underwent an eighth right eye operation this week, Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. All of these procedures have occurred since November of last year. The fourth-year Vikings coach said he’s unsure if this will be the last one. Zimmer missed Week 13 of last season due to eye troubles and acknowledges he will experience vision problems in his left eye at some point.
  • Zimmer said the franchise carefully took Michael Floyd‘s off-the-field history into account before signing him. “We always try to weigh every situation, but you know he’s from here. I think he has a good support system with Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph partly,’’ Zimmer said (via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press) of two former Floyd Notre Dame teammates. “So a lot of those things were factored in and entered into it.” A Floyd arrest for a super extreme DUI led to the Cardinals releasing him last season.
  • The Redskins don’t plan to move one of their outside linebackers to defensive end before training camp. The team drafted Ryan Anderson to join a stable of outside ‘backers that includes Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy, Preston Smith and Junior Galette. But none will be tried at 3-4 end, John Keim of ESPN.com reports. Washington may have a crowd here, but it’s not full of reliable players. Murphy will serve a four-game suspension, and Galette hasn’t played since 2014. Free agents Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain preceded Jonathan Allen‘s arrival in what will be a new-look defensive end corps. Washington lost Chris Baker and cut Ricky Jean-Francois this offseason.