Lions legend is all-in on the Dan Campbell era, hopes for 2023 season

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Legendary Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson expresses his support for Lions head coach Dan Campbell and the 2023 Lions organization. 

Once upon a time, former Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson described continuing his career in Detroit as “the definition of insanity.”

Johnson, who became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2021, made it abundantly clear that nine soul-crushing seasons with the Lions factored into his decision to retire in 2016 at the age of 30.

“I was stuck in my contract with Detroit, and they told me, they would not release my contract, so I would have to come back to them,” Johnson said via ESPN. “I didn’t see the chance for them to win a Super Bowl at the time, and for the work I was putting in, it wasn’t worth my time to keep on beating my head against the wall and not going anywhere. It’s the definition of insanity.”

Now, Johnson and the Lions organization are working to put distance between their contentious end, and as FOX 2 news anchor Ryan Ermanni put it, Johnson’s relationship with the Lions is “trending in the right direction.”

These days, Johnson is impressed with how the Lions ended the 2022 season and appreciates how head coach Dan Campbell has uplifted the Detroit team out of decades-long despair.

“We’ve had more and more frequent discussions,” Johnson told Ermanni of his relationship with his former team. “I’m speaking a lot with, not just [Lions Chief Operating Officer] Mike Disner over there, even more people are coming into the fold. Being able to talk to the coaches and whatnot is very cool. I’m a fan of the game, I’m a fan of Dan [Campbell], I’m a fan of the coaching staff that he has over there because I know how much the team will learn from that, glean from that. It’s very exciting the way they ended last year. It’s very exciting how they’re going into this year because the way they ended gives them all the momentum they need for this year.”

“And they’re looking good in our division,” Johnson added, smiling.

Lions legend Calvin Johnson enthusiastic about Dan Campbell, Lions in 2023

Johnson has spoken at length recently about how he and the Lions have been working to rebuild what ended as a fraught relationship. On April 7, Johnson joined The Pat McAfee Show to discuss how a culture shift in Detroit has smoothed over tensions.

“You just have to set the culture right,” Johnson told McAfee. “The culture has to be set right, and I think that Dan and team, Brad Holmes and team — I’ll even throw Mike Disner in there because he’s been a catalyst in me working things out with the team over there — I think it’s just the right energy from the top, and then that’ll permeate the culture and the team.”

Johnson described Campbell as a “player’s coach”, saying that he has “so much respect” for him and what he’s doing to build up the Lions roster.

McAfee did note that he believes the Lions should have paid Johnson back the $1.6 million of his signing bonus that he was forced to return upon his sudden retirement, to which the Hall of Famer laughed heartily. In 2021, the Lions proposed to pay Johnson $1.5 million in speaking fees over three years, which was an attempt to bring him back into Detroit’s fold before Johnson’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Johnson turned down the offer, describing it as “not serious.” He didn’t thank the team during his Hall of Fame induction speech.

Like fellow Lions legend Barry Sanders, Johnson felt he wasn’t supported properly on and off the field, a sentiment which Johnson now thinks is eroding in Detroit thanks to Dan Campbell.

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