Calvin Johnson wanted to form an NFL super-team but couldn’t leave the Lions — so he chose retirement over the ‘insanity’

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When six-time Pro Bowler Calvin Johnson retired from the NFL last spring, he cited his health as the primary reason. Now, more than a year later, the wide receiver has revealed that his long-term deal with the luckless Detroit Lions was a major factor in his decision to walk away from professional football at the age of 30.

Johnson was on hand to deliver the game ball at Italian Bowl XXXVII, the Italian Football League’s annual championship. There, reporters asked him if he ever considered switching teams in his NFL career, and Johnson didn’t hold back.

“Of course, I thought about it,” Johnson said. “Just like in basketball, you know, guys, they create these super-teams. But it’s not quite like that in football where I had the freedom just to go. I was stuck in my contract with Detroit, and they told me, they would not release my contract, so I would have to come back to them.”

Johnson and the Lions agreed to one of the largest contracts in NFL history in March 2012: $132 million over eight years, with a staggering $60 million guaranteed. But Detroit struggled to maintain a consistent on-field product over the course of the deal, and Johnson, widely regarded as one of the best receivers in league history, played in just two postseason games over nine seasons.

“I didn’t see the chance for them to win a Super Bowl at the time, and for the work I was putting in, it wasn’t worth my time to keep on beating my head against the wall and not going anywhere,” he said. “It’s the definition of insanity.”

This isn’t the first time Johnson has been critical of the Lions organization, which made him pay back part of his signing bonus upon retiring. Two months ago, he made ambiguous complaints to the Detroit Free Press.

“I don’t even like to talk Lions too much just because the way our relationship ended,” Johnson said. “If they see me around here, we’ll see. But hey, I don’t know. I just didn’t feel like I was treated the way I should have been treated on the way out.”