LIONS INSIDER

What Lions' salary cap would look like if Calvin Johnson retires

Posted Feb 2, 2016

The Lions are giving Calvin Johnson time to think about his future, but if he does retire, how will it affect the salary cap?

Calvin Johnson is seriously contemplating retirement after nine NFL seasons. He’s told a select number of teammates, family members, and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell that the 2015 season was his last, according to an ESPN report.

The Lions are giving Johnson time to think about his future. He has not made an official announcement as of yet, but it appears he’d have to have a major change of heart to return for a 10th season in 2016.

Calvin JohnsonWR Calvin Johnson (Photo: Detroit Lions)

So what does that mean for the Lions, beyond the obvious void it would leave on the field? What would be the financial ramifications of Johnson walking away from the game at the age of 30?

Johnson signed a seven-year, $113.45 million contract before the 2012 season that runs through the 2020 season.

He has a base salary of $15.95 million for the 2016 season, which would immediately come off the books if he retires.

Johnson's contract included a signing bonus of $16 million. That money is prorated over the length of the deal, up to five years.

The 2016 season will be the final installment of a $3.2 million prorated bonus. That money counts toward the 2016 cap, but the Lions could try to recover it from him.

There was also $20 million worth of option bonus money in the contract, which for cap purposes was also spread out over five years ($4 million each). Those payments didn’t start until 2013, so Johnson has $8 million in option bonuses left on the deal for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Johnson's retirement would accelerate both cap hits to this upcoming season, the $3.2 million bonus and $8 million in two total option bonuses. It’s unclear if the Lions will be able to recoup any of the option bonus money in the case of a Johnson retirement.

Also in the mix here is the restructuring of his contract in 2013 to save the Lions some cap space to go after free agents like Glover Quin, Jason Jones and Reggie Bush. His restructure paid him a lower base salary for the 2013 season ($715,000) and the remaining balance of $4.29 million was spread out over the next five years, which counts $858,000 each year.

The Lions still have two years of those payments left at $858,000, which would accelerate to $1.716 million (the 2016 and 2017 payments) for the 2016 season, should he retire.

Adding up the $3.2 million, $8 million and $1.716 million equals $12.916 million, which the Lions are responsible for on next season’s cap even if Johnson retires.

Johnson’s total cap hit is $24,008,000, so the Lions will save just under $11.1 million towards the 2016 cap if he retires.

If the team tries to recover the final $3.2 million in bonus money and is successful, the cap savings could potentially increase to a little under $14.3 million. But it’s also possible the team doesn't see that savings until the 2017 cap.

If Johnson retires, he’s leaving a total of $67.7 million in base salary on the table from 2016-20.