If it feels like the football world was robbed of more years of watching Calvin Johnson manhandle defensive backs, that's because it sort of was. The four-time All-Pro receiver hung up his cleats for good in 2016, formally announcing his retirement from the NFL that March following his ninth year in the league. It appears that wasn't his first decision, as often speculated, and his career instead followed a similar arc as another Detroit Lions legend -- Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders.
As it turns out, Johnson wasn't actually done playing football. After racking up 11,619 receiving yards and 83 touchdowns -- including six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and seven overall despite a very lean and discombobulated decade with the Lions -- Johnson was simply done playing football in Detroit.
"We asked would they release me or let me go to another team," Johnson told WoodwardSports.com. "They wouldn't."
The ending to Megatron's story is much different than that of Matthew Stafford, his former quarterback who also recently came to the conclusion it was time to move on from the Motor City. Stafford wasn't met with contention from the team's brass, however, and ultimately got his wish in a trade that sent him to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a blockbuster package that included Jared Goff and two first-round picks. It's something that didn't go unnoticed by Johnson, whose situation wasn't much different -- if at all.
"You know what, it sucked that they didn't let me go," he said. "But they let Matthew go, but hey, you know, it is what it is."
Don't misconstrue this as any type of angst toward Stafford, though. It's aimed squarely at the Lions.
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"I was talking to Matthew yesterday -- [he's] doing well," Johnson added. "I'm happy for him because he's happy that he's out in California. You know, him and his beautiful family, they're loving their time out there. When he's comfortable, he's good where he's at.
"So you can only expect good things from him. I look forward to seeing him out there."
Eventually, Sanders and the Lions buried his respective hatchet, and he has become one the team's most prominent ambassadors, but that's not happened just yet with Johnson. There's also no guarantee it'll ever happen, and it appears it's more on the team being unwilling to mend fences than it is Johnson holding a grudge. Still maintaining a good relationship with players who spend time with the Lions, there's still a very noticeable canyon between the two sides.
For a team that once saw Johnson reel in 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns in an 0-16 season -- with a rotation of Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna and a declining Daunte Culpepper at quarterback -- he feels the least they can do is come to the table and talk.
"I'm not back in the family with the Lions or anything like that," Johnson said. "It would be nice to if they try to resolve things, but that's neither here nor there."