'The Lions' fault': Nate Burleson backs Calvin Johnson in dispute with team

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — It's been six years since Nate Burleson has played a snap for the Detroit Lions, but he's remained passionate about the organization.

Whether he's pumping up the team on the NFL Network, where he's a host on "Good Morning Football," delivering a fiery speech to announce the selection of running back Kerryon Johnson at the 2018 NFL Draft, or promoting his Lions Blood clothing line, Burleson has continued to represent the Honolulu blue and silver in a positive way. 

Lions Calvin Johnson evades several tackles on a first down run as the Detroit Lions beat the Philadelphia Eagles 26-23 in Philadelphia on October 14th, 2012.

But for all the love Burleson has for the Lions, he's not afraid to levy criticism when he feels it's merited. And in the ongoing and public dispute between the team and retired All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Burleson is siding with his former teammate. 

"I agree with him 100 percent," Burleson said during a recent appearance on the Lefkoe show. "You guys know I’m a Lion, through and through, but I saw this coming. The writing was on the wall. It’s funny how history repeats itself. How do you approach a player -- Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson -- that gave you so much? And not just in the moment, let’s just think about the impact they have on this organization when it comes to selling their likeness, the images, the videos, the jerseys, the highlights, helping recruit players. All these different things come into play. So that million dollars, it pales in comparison to what Calvin is still bringing into this team from a revenue standpoint."

The relationship between Johnson and the Lions was severed shortly after the receiver retired in 2016 and the team demanded he return a portion of the signing bonus from his 2011 contract extension, reportedly more than $1 million. 

Last month, team president Rod Wood said it was a priority to repair the damage, but when asked what the team needed to do, Johnson told the Detroit Free Press, "The only way they’re going to get me back is they put that money back in my pocket."

Nate Burleson, Calvin Johnson and Joique Bell at practice in 2013.

Burleson also discussed the physical pain Johnson was battling dating back to when Jim Schwartz was the team's coach. At one practice, Burleson said he had to volunteer to take Johnson's reps so that the All-Pro could return to the training room. 

Burleson also revealed Johnson began hearing rumors the team would make him pay back money when he first mentioned retirement in 2015. That would pre-date general manager Bob Quinn's hire. 

It's a situation Burleson hopes to see quietly resolved in the near future. 

"I feel like it should be one of those cases that you hear about, but when it’s all said and it done, it just goes away and you just hear that a settlement was made," he said. "Behind closed doors. In the NFL world, this is a hot case and we’re all waiting to hear what the Lions are going to say and if Calvin Johnson is going to work his way back.

"Not only is he an ambassador, but maybe he comes back more often, he’s part of the organization, maybe he’s in the front office," Burleson said. "He’s in Michigan a ton, he has a lot of business going on, he’s doing things in the community. How is he there talking to the kids and not talking to the team? That’s the Lions’ fault."