Calvin Johnson remains estranged from the only NFL team he played for, but five years into retirement, there is a glimmer of hope for a reunion.
Johnson, the Detroit Lions’ all-time leading receiver, told the Free Press in an exclusive podcast Saturday that he spoke to the team’s receivers at the behest of his old position coach, Robert Prince, during a Zoom meeting this spring.
“I do have a relationship with R.P.,” Johnson said. “I do have a relationship with the receivers coach. Obviously, he was my coach when I finished up there, so yeah, we have a relationship. We’ll reach out and see how each other’s doing every now and then. Spoke to the receivers one time. It was good to speak to those guys.”
Johnson and the Lions have been at odds since he retired after the 2015 season with four years left on his contract.
The Lions forced Johnson to repay $1.6 million of his signing bonus at the time. Typically, NFL teams don’t try and recoup prorated bonus payments from players in good standing.
Johnson said his relationship with the organization is “nil” right now.
“There’s no back and forth there,” he said. “That’s fine with me. I’m handling my business, I’m sure they’re handling theirs.”
But the wide receiver will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time later this fall, with a strong chance he’s elected in 2021, and Lions president Rod Wood said previously that re-establishing a relationship with Johnson was “a very high priority” for an organization that was once at odds with another star player in retirement, Barry Sanders.
Johnson, who last year said the Lions needed to return his money in order for there to be a relationship, has invited Lions players to help out at his football camps nearly ever year since retirement and said Saturday he admires the talent the team has assembled in the receiving corps.
“Love watching Kenny Golladay,” Johnson said. “It’s nice to have Danny (Amendola) come over and Marvin (Jones). Love to see those guys out there. My heart goes out to Marvin for their loss. That’s terrible. But those are great guys. They’re great guys and I like seeing good guys do well, so I’ve got love for those players for sure.”
In his spring Zoom session, Johnson, who remains in the metro Detroit area, where he launched a local cannabis business with his ex-teammate, Rob Sims, said he stressed the need to work on the finer points of the position as mundane as they may be.
“Literally just take one thing at a time and work on each thing on a daily basis and stack good days up on top of each other,” he said. “Like, ‘Hey, today I’m going to work on seeing the corner of the ball to my hands, tomorrow I’m going to work on the top of routes or the next day I’m going to work on fitting my hands in blocking or whatever.
“Understand we’re not going to be perfect, but really trying to hone in on those skills and like I say, ‘That’s one good day, I’ll put it here. OK, that’s another good day. OK, I’ll stack it on top of that.’ And essentially when you stack those good days up of practice, that stuff just translates to the field but it really takes you homing in and putting a game-like effort, like the lights are on in practice so that it can transfer. And you play instinctually instead of thinking about stuff. So I think that’s what I really just try to hit home with any young group of guys that I talk to.”
Johnson said he has not given his Hall of Fame candidacy much thought, though getting a gold jacket will feel “like if I had won a Super Bowl.”
He still deals with aches and pains in his body, and recently saw his ankles swell up after a long family bike ride, but is otherwise content in retirement and trying to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson said he got “sicker than I’ve ever been” in February, but does not know if he had COVID-19. Three of his extended relatives died after contracting the virus, and he said he would give “serious, serious, serious thought” to opting out of the season if he was still playing.
“That’s a very tough decision,” he said. “Being in my position I was in, being obviously drafted and afford the privilege I’ve been playing in the NFL, I would have the option to obviously sit out if I needed to. If me and my wife deemed it to. And such a serious situation, it would be a serious, serious, serious thought. We haven’t even talked about that, but now that you mentioned it, I’m going to go back inside and ask my wife what she thinks.”
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