Former Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson held his Catch a Dream football camp at Southfield A&T High School on May 20, 2017. Video by Kirthmon F. Dozier/DFP

The former All-Pro WR spoke pretty candidly about his time and exit from the Lions in a recent news conference in Italy

The Detroit Lions’ status as a Super Bowl nobody, coupled with an aging body, apparently played a role in Calvin Johnson’s retirement.

Johnson, speaking during a news conference in Italy for Italian Bowl XXXVII in Vicenza, included the team’s on-field performance as a reason for his departure from the NFL. It’s the first time Johnson has spoken about the team’s lack of success playing a role in his retirement.

“I didn’t see a chance for them to win a Super Bowl at the time,” Johnson said. “For the work I was putting in, it wasn’t worth my time, to keep on beating my head up against the wall, and not go anywhere.

“It’s the definition of insanity.”

Johnson mentioned his recent trip to Oakland to watch the Raiders practice. Oakland native Marshawn Lynch, 31, who retired from the Seahawks in the same off-season as Johnson, is making a comeback with the Raiders. 

“We actually came into the league together,” Johnson said. “He’s in a great situation. If I was to keep playing, I would have played in Detroit. It just wasn’t for me anymore.”

Later in the media session, Johnson was asked if he thought about ever playing for a different team. 

“Of course I thought about it,” Johnson said, adding that it’s not as easy for football players to create super teams as it seems to be in the NBA. “I was stuck in my contract in Detroit. And they told me they would not release my contract, so I would have to come back to them.”

The contract he was stuck in was an eight-year, $132-million deal with about $60 million in guarantees.

Asked if he thought the Lions would ever make the Super Bowl. He paused an extra beat, bringing a moment of levity. 

“At some point, they gotta make it,” Johnson said. “I don’t know when, but they gotta make it.”

In May, Johnson hosted his annual football camp for high school players at Southfield A&T High School. There, he told the Free Press he wasn’t interested in a return to football.


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The 31-year-old Johnson said he didn’t like talking about the Lions much “just because of the way our relationship ended. 

“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.”


Calvin Johnson right to be miffed at Lions for way things ended

In June, the Free Press reported that Johnson paid back the Lions at least $1 million of the $16-million signing bonus the team paid him when he signed his most recent contract. 

Johnson, the best receiver in franchise history, retired from the Lions after the 2015 season. He played nine seasons, all in Detroit, amassing 11,619 yards receiving and 83 touchdowns. He also set the record for most receiving yards in a season with 1,964 in 2012. 

But on-field success was mostly left to individual accolades. The Lions’ record during Johnson’s tenure was 54-90 (.375 winning percentage) and included just two playoff appearances, losing both times in the wild-card round.

Johnson’s comments about not being happy with his relationship with the Lions created a stir, so much so, Lions coach Jim Caldwell addressed it in May.

 “I think all of us within the organization,” Caldwell said, “top to bottom, Mrs. (Martha) Ford down through Bob and the Ford children, everybody, we’re all concerned anytime we hear one of our alumni aren’t happy, particularly with how we feel about our alumni around here.”