They'll get at least something back for their investment after agreeing to a trade of draft picks and dropping the contested offer sheet, sending Johnson to Tampa Bay. The deal still needs league approval.
Despite the unknown compensation gains, it may not look like a win from a player standpoint. The Lions are losing a player who had six sacks for them last season and was their No. 3 defensive end, but consider it from a different way.
Detroit didn't want to pay Johnson the $9 million over three years Tampa reportedly offered to him. The Lions didn't want to give him a second-round tender, either, because they clearly believed he wasn't a $2 million-per-year-or-better player.
So they took a chance with the original round tender, knowing that if a team signed him to a decent offer sheet, he was probably gone. Detroit found something it could contest in the offer sheet.
It wins because it ended up getting something -- even an unknown swapped late-round draft pick -- for what could have been nothing other than some more cap room.
The Lions could afford this type of maneuver because defensive end is one of the deepest positions they have on the roster. It might be the deepest other than linebacker. Johnson had a good season, but there was no guarantee he would be able to build on that or regress more toward the unproductive player he was prior to the 2014 season for Minnesota and Tampa Bay. The Lions also have other young players at the position who they believe could fill in for Johnson.
Devin Taylor played decently as a rookie in a rotational role but had his snaps significantly cut in 2014 after the emergence of Johnson and Darryl Tapp. With Johnson gone, Taylor figures to have a shot at regaining some of his reps, and he possesses a lot of the same athleticism and power as Johnson.
Larry Webster was drafted in the fourth round last year as a developmental project -- a player still converting back to football from playing college basketball. He has the speed and athleticism to be a good rotational player, and the Lions have been high on him. After being on the 53-man roster but not playing last season, he's expected to steal some snaps, too.
Those two players would figure to receive the first shot at Johnson's snaps. The Lions are also curious to see what Phillip Hunt, who had success in the CFL and was signed during the offseason, could bring.
Then there's this option: Considering this time a year ago Johnson wasn't even on Detroit's roster, perhaps someone else emerges as a surprise for the Lions -- someone who might not even be on the roster yet.