NFLPA records show Johnson has paid back $320,000 of his signing bonus to the club, knocking down his dead money from $12.916 million to $12.596 million for 2016. The payback to the Lions was first reported by the Detroit Free Press on Friday morning.
The Lions could have tried to get back $3.2 million of his signing bonus, but the release announcing Johnson’s retirement included a line saying Johnson and the Lions had handled matters "to the satisfaction of both parties."
This is significant because the Lions came after Barry Sanders for some of his signing bonus after Sanders retired on the eve of training camp before the 1999 season. An arbitrator ruled in 2000 that Sanders had to pay back $1.8 million of his signing bonus immediately and then make yearly payments to the Lions up to $5.5 million.
Sanders had offered to pay it all back at once if the Lions released him from his contract, which they did not.
There won’t be those issues with Johnson, who retired before the start of the league year and in doing so initially opened up $11.1 million in cap space for Detroit. And then, with giving back some of his signing bonus, he added just a little bit more.