When the Detroit Lions all-time wide receiver leader Calvin Johnson suddenly announced his retirement from the NFL, it took fans by surprise. Johnson, at the time, said that he was playing in a lot of pain and was suffering through numerous injuries over his career, and was ready to hang things up. However, the split did not go well and the Lions demanded him repay a large amount of his signing bonus to the team as punishment for retiring. Now, in a recent interview, ESPN reports that Johnson had another reason he decided to retire from the NFL.

The Lions were not a championship team

Calvin Johnson had a lot of faith in his career that the Detroit Lions were on the cusp of doing something special.

With a great quarterback in Matthew Stafford, the Lions had two pieces when it comes to a championship but that wasn’t enough. Johnson said that there was no chance he saw that the Lions could win a Super Bowl and he felt trapped on the team. Calvin pointed out the difference between the NFL and the NBA and said that he wasn’t allowed to try to play for a winning team.

This had to feel very similar to a previous situation with the Detroit Lions. Barry Sanders was the best running back in the NFL and he played for the Lions. However, Sanders shocked the NFL world when he retired in the prime of his career. According to most reports at the time, Sanders left the Lions because he didn’t want to continue playing in Detroit, knowing they had little chance of winning a Super Bowl, and his contract locked him up there long-term.

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He preferred to retire than to continue playing for a struggling team.

NBA vs. NFL Collective Bargaining Agreements

According to Calvin Johnson, the NBA is showing how players can leave a team that they feel can’t win and join a team that is in line for a championship possibility. Two years ago, Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder for a Golden State Warriors team that had already won a championship. This offseason, Paul George said he wanted to leave Indiana because he didn’t think they could win a championship and could have opted out next year. Gordon Hayward left the Utah Jazz for the same reason.

In the NBA, players can put clauses in their contracts where they can opt out of a deal after a certain time. They also have nice guarantees built into their deals so a team can’t just cut them out of nowhere to save money but the team can add an opt out clauses as well. In most NFL contracts, that is not possible. According to Calvin Johnson, he couldn’t go to a better team to try to win a Super Bowl because the Lions made it clear they would not release him from his contract.

Calvin Johnson said that he was beating his head against the wall and not going anywhere when it came to the amount of work he put into a team that wasn’t going to win a Super Bowl. Johnson said it was the “definition of insanity” and the two reasons he retired was because of the pain and because he played for the Detroit Lions.