However, Johnson recently signed with the XFL. And, according to a report Monday, the fledgling league apparently isn’t letting him go.
ESPN cited a source in reporting that the Lions had an “interest in signing” Johnson but the XFL “blocked them.”
Lions Coach Matt Patricia said at a news conference Monday that he was “not really sure the details of what happened with that,” adding that Johnson “was just someone that was here that knew the system that we had some familiarity with, so we were just kind of doing our due diligence there.”
The XFL could not be reached immediately by The Post for comment.
As it readies to begin its inaugural season in February, the XFL has been building the rosters for its eight teams, including with a draft last month. According to Pro Football Talk, the contracts being offered by the league state that they are “nonnegotiable” and that players may only defect to the NFL after their respective teams’ seasons are over.
Johnson, 33, was recently added to the XFL and assigned to its franchise in Los Angeles, the Wildcats. An Oakland native and former college star at San Diego, Johnson was selected by the Buccaneers in the fifth round of the 2008 draft and went on to stints with the Browns, Bengals and 49ers.
Despite not having thrown a regular-season NFL pass since 2011, Johnson was signed by the Redskins last year to back up starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, who himself had been added in midseason and pressed into service after injuries to Alex Smith and Colt McCoy. When Sanchez became the next to fall by the wayside, Johnson made his first start in seven years and led Washington to a win over the Jaguars.
Over four appearances with the Redskins, including three starts in which he went 1-2, Johnson completed 57.1 percent of his passes for three touchdowns, four interceptions and a 69.4 passer rating. He added 120 yards and a score on 23 rushing attempts.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Johnson said after the Redskins’ season ended in December. “I’m just trying to live in the moment right now and hopefully it works out, but we will see what happens."
The XFL also announced last week it signed Taylor Heinicke, a former backup quarterback with the Texans and Panthers, and Chase Litton, formerly a practice squad quarterback for the Chiefs and Jaguars.
“Our coaches and scouts are continuing to identify the very best talent available to the XFL and our teams, which elevates the level of competition,” XFL Commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck said at the time in a statement. “We are excited to welcome these three talented quarterbacks to our league and look forward to minicamp when our teams get on the field and competition begins.”
Former NFL quarterbacks that had been previously signed by the XFL include Cardale Jones, Landry Jones, Matt McGloin and Aaron Murray. According to reports, they and Johnson, among others, have been classified as Tier 1 players by the league, meaning that they are set to have salaries of approximately $500,000.
That’s far more than most XFL players will make, as the league reportedly is set to pay the majority of its players salaries with an average of approximately $55,000. At least one player who was selected in the XFL draft last month, defensive end Corey Vereen, decided to pass on the league because the money was insufficient.
Johnson was the No. 1 pick last year in the inaugural quarterback draft of the Alliance of American Football, but he suffered an ankle injury this spring and never saw any game action in the league. The AAF, which hurried to begin play this year ahead of the XFL’s 2020 launch, ended up shuttering before its first season ended amid financial woes and lawsuits.
For the past three weeks, the Lions have been starting Jeff Driskel at quarterback in place of injured stalwart Matthew Stafford, but Driskel was listed Monday as having a hamstring issue. Even if he is healthy enough to play Thursday, his dismal performance Sunday against the Redskins, in which Driskel threw three interceptions while taking six sacks in a 19-16 loss, might have been enough for Detroit to begin considering other options.
The only other active quarterback currently on the Lions’ roster is David Blough, who went undrafted out of Purdue this spring before signing with the Browns in May and getting traded to Detroit in August.