Detroit — It's been more than three years since Calvin Johnson retired from the NFL, and in the time since, his relationship with the Detroit Lions has remained strained. Team president Rod Wood is making it a top priority this offseason to mend the fences between the organization and one of its all-time great players.
"I haven't really talked to Calvin in the last little bit," Wood said at the team's "Taste of the Lions" event at Ford Field on Wednesday night. "It's kind of funny that you asked. I had it on my agenda today to talk internally about some things to re-approach him about getting back involved. That's on the agenda this year, reaching out to him. We have Barry coming in this week for a couple events and I want to try to find a way to do something similar to what we've been doing with Barry (Sanders), if Calvin would be interested."
Johnson's frustrations with the Lions are two-fold. A year after his retirement, he noted his disappointment the team wouldn't let him out of his contract to pursue a Super Bowl championship. Then, after he retired, the team sought back a portion of his signing bonus, reportedly $1 million.
"I just didn’t feel like I was treated the way I should have been treated on the way out,” Johnson said shortly after retirement. “That’s all. I mean, it’s all good. I’m not tripping. I don’t feel any kind of way, just hey, that’s what they did. Hey, it is what is.”
Sanders, who abruptly retired in 1999, just before the start of the team's training camp that year, went through a similarly strained relationship with the team after it sought to recoup a portion of his contract.
But the sides are in a better place these days, with Sanders becoming a brand ambassador for the team in 2017.
Wood said it's important the Lions improve their relationship with Johnson prior to the receiver becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2021.
"It's a very high priority," Wood said. "I would hope, and expect, within a couple years he'll be considered for the Hall of Fame and I really want to have a relationship at that point, that's productive for both sides. We can be there, celebrating with him and find ways to have him here to celebrate as well."