Andrew Luck retirement makes Detroit Lions look bad all over again
The Detroit Lions botched the retirements of Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson. And the repaying of their signing bonuses haunts the team to this day.
The Detroit Lions have had a lifetime’s worth of shocking retirements. For the rest of the NFL to catch up, it would be probably take another century of NFL football. So when the league hits 200 in 3019, the media can assess what franchise had it the worse – and one would bet the Lions will have racked up a few more head-scratching cases in the coming ten decades.
When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck retired over the weekend, it was certainly shocking. But with every mention of that retirement, there is always mention of the Detroit Lions pair of early retirements – running back Barry Sanders in 1999 and wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2016.
It is enough to have those old wounds prodded at for the past four days. But then there is this whole issue of the Colts not asking for any of Luck’s bonus money back – which amounts to just under 25 million dollars.
On Monday’s Outside the Lines, Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News talked about Luck keeping the bonus money. And, of course, he had to mention the Detroit Lions (08-26-19, “Andrew Luck Retires”):
"“But guys like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson… the Lions recouped that money. They took over one million dollars back from Calvin Johnson. And Barry Sanders had to return six or seven million. But just because the Colts have handled the Luck situation this way doesn’t mean that if another guy follows suit… [teams] would be okay with it.”"
First off, six or seven million dollars is more than a year’s pay when Barry was playing – his last contract extension in 1997 paid him $32.7 million over five years (Source: Over The Cap). So, that was a pretty significant amount to take from Sanders. For Calvin, the million that he paid back looks much less punitive, although he is still angry with the team about it.
And, thankfully, Barry is back in the fold with the team. And there is still hope that the Detroit Lions will do right by Johnson, and make up for the million that he repaid. But there still is a looming problem with all this talk.
The Colts are letting Luck keep the money as public relations move, and they look great for doing so. In contrast, the Detroit Lions owners – who are billionaires just like the Colts owners – look petty.
This is part of the culture problem surrounding this team. This has an effect on how players (currently on the team, free agents, or potential draft picks) view the Lions. What the Colts did with Luck reminds everyone of how badly Detroit treated their retired superstars.
Ownership needs to take a hard look at itself when it comes to this issue. Yes, there are the arguments of you didn’t fulfill the contract, so you have to repay the money.
But these were two of the greatest players in the history of the franchise. It just looks bad. And in those two particular cases, there was no real reason to demand the money back.
With Barry, he is one of the greatest players in NFL history (not just Detroit Lions history). And with Calvin, the amount is fairly minuscule in terms of the production on the field and the sacrifices he made to his body.
When it comes to this level of elite players, it can’t be about setting a precedent that the signing bonus be paid back. There are cases where the player transcends those kinds of concerns. But the Lions always choose unwisely in these situations – and just go with the money.
With Barry and Calvin, there could have been immediate opportunities to make up for that money by keeping them close to the organization. Instead, the franchise looks uncaring and stingy.
Football is a business. There is no question about it. But the better long-term business decision would have been to let that money go. If this is about winning Super Bowls, then you have to have a culture where all things are considered. Not just money, but what the player did for you. Not every case can be treated the same.
Ultimately, this is just another reason to believe that this franchise will never understand what it takes to be a winner. Every decision is being watched. It is time to start making the right ones. And, by the way, the Detroit Lions still have done nothing to mend fences with Calvin Johnson. What are they waiting for?