| The Detroit News
For the past few years, Detroit Lions president Rod Wood has fielded all the questions about the team’s relationship with former receiver Calvin Johnson.
But on Thursday, owner Sheila Ford Hamp was the one asked about the still-burned bridge between the two sides.
Ford Hamp brushed aside the financial aspects of the rift, arguably the sole root of the problem, while expressing optimism the two sides could mend fences in the future.
“Well, I’m not going to go into the money issue, but I hope we can repair things with Calvin Johnson,” Ford Hamp said. “He was obviously an amazing player for us. We’re going to continue to reach out to him and hope that we can repair things because I think it’s important that he comes back into the Lions family. We’d love if he could, if he will. We are 100% behind him for his Hall of Fame ballot and hope he gets it this time. He was a great, great player and a terrific person and we’d love to have him back with us and working with us and helping us with everything.”
Johnson is currently among 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, seeking the distinguished honor of being enshrined his first year on the ballot. The selections will be announced in early February.
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft, he played nine seasons, all in Detroit, setting nearly every meaningful franchise receiver record. Johnson, who earned six Pro Bowl selections and three first-team All-Pro honors, also holds the NFL’s single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards in 2012.
Johnson abruptly retired in 2015, at the age of 30, but behind the scenes it was something he had been contemplating for more than a year due to mounting injuries. Following his retirement, the Lions recouped a portion of the signing bonus — reportedly more than $1 million — from the contract he signed in 2012.
In a recent interview on the podcast Huddle and Flow, Johnson reiterated his irritation with the Lions for the decision.
“There hasn’t really been too much communication with Detroit,” Johnson said. “…It’s simple. It’s like, yeah, it’s hard for me to do anything for anyone that takes anything from me, you know? So I feel like after everything I did for the organization, that shouldn’t have even been a thought, honestly. I would have happily been there to fulfill my duty to participate and give back to the receivers, or however they want me to help, just the organization as a whole.
“…I love the fans here, but I can’t step foot into the building after I dropped so much in there. Because that stung. I mean, it straight up stung. Emotionally, but business-wise? No, it just doesn’t work like that.”
The Lions had a similar issue with Barry Sanders after the star running back retired ahead of training camp in 1999. That relationship remained strained more than a decade, but in 2017, the team hired Sanders to serve as a brand ambassador. He was also recently a consultant during the team’s search for a new coach and general manager.