Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions 'moving in the right direction' toward reconciliation

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Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
·3 min read
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After five years of being estranged from the only organization he ever played for, Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions are moving toward reconciliation.

Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp reached out to Johnson directly to start a dialogue about bringing him back into the fold last month, and Johnson said Sunday he is hopeful that will happen before he is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.

Johnson was one of eight members selected to the 2021 class, along with Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson, in voting that was announced Saturday.

Calvin Johnson talks to reporters Feb. 7, 2021, following his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first appearance on the ballot.
Calvin Johnson talks to reporters Feb. 7, 2021, following his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first appearance on the ballot.

The class will be enshrined Aug. 8.

[ Relive Calvin Johnson's 5 most epic games in his Hall of Fame Lions career ]

“I really do hope (this helps get the relationship patched up)," Johnson said. "I know that myself and Sheila Hamp, we’ve had some great conversations recently. It’s been good to get to know her and just really just have those face-to-face conversations, so I think that we’re moving in the right direction."

Johnson and the Lions had a falling out after Johnson retired following the 2015 season, when the organization asked him to repay $1.6 million, a prorated portion of the signing bonus he received in a 2012 contract extension.

Johnson told the Free Press in 2018 he was taken aback when Lions president Rod Wood asked him about that money immediately after he told the organization he was retiring.

“I knew there was going to be a problem once Rod talked to me and the first thing out of his mouth was like, ‘Did you earn all your bonus?’" Johnson said. "I was like, ‘Oh, shit.’ I knew right then it was going to be a problem. I was like, ‘All right, I see how it’s going to be.’”

For years, Johnson held that the Lions had to return that money in order for him to be part of the organization again, saying in 2019, "The only way they’re going to get me back is they put that money back in my pocket."

The Lions have a history of trying to recoup bonus money from their stars, unlike many teams in the NFL, that dates back to at least when Barry Sanders retired before the 1999 season.

Detroit Lions owner and chairman Sheila Ford Hamp before a game against the New Orleans Saints at Ford Field, Oct. 4, 2020.
Detroit Lions owner and chairman Sheila Ford Hamp before a game against the New Orleans Saints at Ford Field, Oct. 4, 2020.

The Lions took Sanders to arbitration for repayment of his signing bonus, which led to a falling out between the two sides that has since been repaired. Sanders now works as a paid ambassador for the organization.

While the Ford Family has owned the Lions for nearly 60 years, Hamp took the primary leadership position as owner last spring. Her father, William Clay Ford, ran the team during Sanders' playing days, and her mother, Martha Firestone Ford, was less than two years into her stint as owner and chairman when Johnson retired.

More: Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson's Hall of Fame case, from the coaches who faced him

Hamp declined to discuss "the money issue" last month, but said at the time, "I hope we can repair things with Calvin Johnson.

"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."

When this year's Hall-of-Fame class was announced Saturday, Hamp released a statement through the team personally congratulating Johnson on his accomplishment.

"Calvin is one of the best to ever wear a Lions uniform, as he becomes the 22nd player who played for the Lions to be inducted into the Hall of Fame," her statement read. "This is the highest individual honor in football, and it brings me great job to know that Calvin's legacy will forever be enshrined in Canton."

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions move 'in right direction' toward reunion