Calvin Johnson was one of the NFL’s best receivers over a nine-year span from 2007 through 2015. He was one of the Lions’ most consistent players in franchise history and gave them a dynamic playmaking threat that they had lacked since Barry Sanders’ retirement.
Johnson was one of the league’s brightest stars. He set numerous NFL receiving records and led the league in receiving yards in back-to-back years in the prime of his career — 2011 and 2012. Even in his final season, he racked up over 1,200 yards and found the end-zone nine times.
However, Johnson called it quits earlier than most expected. He played until he was 29 years old but then rode off into the sunset. Since then, he hasn’t been in the public eye nearly as often as he once was, and his relationship with the Lions isn’t great.
What is Calvin Johnson up to now? Here’s what the former Lions star is doing in his retirement and a look back at his excellent career.
Calvin Johnson career stats, NFL records
Johnson played in 135 career games for the Lions with 130 starts. He racked up 713 catches, 11,619 receiving yards and 83 receiving touchdowns during his regular season career. He had 17 catches for 296 yards and two TDs in two career playoff games.
Johnson had seven career 1,000-yard receiving seasons including six consecutively to end his career. He led the NFL in receiving yards twice — once when he broke the NFL record for receiving yards in a single season with 1,964 in 2012, and once the year prior when he had 1,681 receiving yards.
During his career, Johnson was named an AP All-Pro three times and was selected to the Pro Bowl in six consecutive seasons to end his career. He also set numerous NFL receiving records, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Most receiving yards in a single season: 1,964 yards (2012)
- Seasons with 1,600 yards receiving: 2 (tied with four others)
- Most consecutive games with at least 100 receiving yards: 8 (tied with Adam Thielen)
- Most consecutive games with at least 10 receptions: 4
- Most 100 receiving yard games in a single season: 11 (tied with Michael Irvin)
- Most receiving yards in a single game in regulation: 329 (October 27, 2013, against the Dallas Cowboys)
- Most games with at least 200 receiving yards: 5 (tied with Lance Alworth)
Why did Calvin Johnson retire?
Johnson announced his retirement from the Lions on March 8, 2016. He said in a statement that it “was not an easy or hasty decision.”
“I, along with those closest to me, have put a lot of time, deliberation and prayer into this decision and I truly am at peace with it,” Johnson said. “I also want you to know that I have the utmost respect and admiration for the game of football. It has provided so much for me and my family and I will be forever grateful to the game.”
But why did Johnson — who had recorded 88 catches, 1,214 yards and eight receiving touchdowns during his final season — walk away at the age of 29? As he explained during an appearance on “All the Smoke” with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, he spoke to his father and let him know that he was hurting too much to continue playing.
“I was like, ‘Man, dad, I’m done. I can’t do it no more,'” Johnson told Barnes and Jackson. “They’re blowing up the team. My body is aching. I don’t have my range of motion like I use to. I can’t get out, I can’t dig like I used to. I just don’t feel it. I just don’t have the love for it because I was just always hurting. I just don’t have it.”
Calvin Johnson Lions feud
Johnson’s early departure from the Lions did lead to some issues between him and the organizations, and they linger to this day. Detroit forced Johnson to repay $1.6 million of his signing bonus in wake of his retirement, as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press outlined.
The veteran receiver took offense to the team’s decision, especially after they offered to pay Johnson back over three years . . . in exchange for 28 hours of promotional appearances per year.
“I’m not gonna close a chapter, but I’m not gonna bend over backwards to try and do anything, because I didn’t do anything. I did my job,” Johnson said. “I’m not saying they gotta repay me the $1.6 (million) all up front, but they need to figure out a way to do it and not have me work for it. Because I already did the work for it.”
Johnson thought the issue fell squarely on ownership and was insulted because he felt the players were “just numbers” to the Lions’ group.
“You see (Tony) Romo come out, you see Andrew Luck come out, you see how their owners take care of them,” Johnson said. “When we were playing with the Lions, you see (ownership) out at practice, but that wasn’t an everyday thing when I was playing … They just see us as, we’re just pawns out there. We’re just numbers. They don’t see the personalities, they don’t see the people.
“I’m just now getting to learn the ownership. I never really spoke to them when I played.”
That — in addition to the injuries that Johnson dealt with during his time with the Lions — has put a continued strain on his relationship with the team.
Is Calvin Johnson in the Hall of Fame?
Johnson was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2021. He was one of eight selected to receive his gold jacket, along with the following inductees:
- Drew Pearson
- Tom Flores
- Peyton Manning
- John Lynch
- Alan Faneca
- Charles Woodson
During his speech, Johnson spoke about some of the injuries that plagued him during his career and forced him into an early retirement. He specifically cited a back injury that he suffered as a rookie and that lingered throughout his entire career.
Johnson also spoke about the healing benefits of cannabis, which is his current passion and career.
Where is Calvin Johnson now?
Johnson founded a cannabis business called Primitiv with his former Lions teammate, offensive lineman Rob Sims. The company is studying the effects of cannabis on chronic pain.
Johnson and Sims announced a partnership with Harvard in 2019 that will explore the effects that medical marijuana has as a potential treatment for CTE.
“I have long been silent in other partnerships in other states, so it’s just like, I want to get involved on the grassroots level from the ground up, you know?” Johnson said of starting the business once Michigan legalized cannabis, per ESPN. “I really want to be involved in this thing. I believe in it. I know it because I used it. It helps me with inflammation. It helps me with pain. So I’m like, ‘OK, let’s really get down to the science of this.'”
Primitiv’s website cites the NFL’s reliance on opioid painkillers as one of the main reasons that Johnson and Sims created the company.
Often, they are prescribed opioid painkillers for treatment, which can lead to dependency and addiction. Johnson and Sims felt the need for a more holistic approach to their pain management, and thus Primitiv was born.
“Our vision is we’re trying to change the stigma around cannabis,” Sims told ESPN. “We don’t call it bud. We call it medicine.”