Johnson, who was officially selected Saturday for the 2021 Professional Football Hall of Fame, said he recently spoke with Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp – the first real confirmation that the fences can be repaired.
“You know, I really hope so,” Johnson said Sunday in a Hall of Fame conference call. “I think I know Sheila Hamp and I’ve had some great conversations lately, and it’s been nice to meet her and talk to her in person.
“So I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
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Both sides disagree that Johnson should have paid just over $1 million – the signing bonus he received at the beginning of his last contract – to the Lions when he left after the 2015 season.
Last month, Hamp spoke for the first time about the broken relationship between the franchise and Johnson, and although she declined to go into details, she expressed interest in repairing that relationship.
“I hope we can come to an understanding with Calvin Johnson,” Hamp said in January. “He has obviously been a great player for us and we will continue to approach him. I hope we can work it out because I think it’s important for him to come back into the Lions family.
“We’d like him to do it if he can or wants to.” So, um… “We support him 100% in the vote for the Hall of Fame, and we hope he makes it this time. He was a great, great player and a great person and we’d like him to come back to us and work with us and help us with everything.”
Johnson, who still lives in the suburbs of Detroit, has had nothing publicly to do with the franchise since retiring. He first thought about returning to Georgia, where he grew up, but decided to stay in Michigan with his family and work at Primitive, a cannabis company he co-founded with former Lions striker Rob Sims.
Johnson did not hold a press conference or speak to the media from the day he resigned until his annual camp in June. Since then, Johnson has expressed frustration with the way this part of his resignation has been handled on several occasions over the past five years, including telling ESPN in December 2016, “I just want it to end a little differently.
Immediately afterward, former Lions head coach Jim Caldwell – the last NFL coach Johnson played for – said he hoped the Lions and Johnson would eventually come to an agreement.
“Playing for a National Football League team is like a family,” Caldwell said in 2017, “in families sometimes there are differences. They see things a little bit differently. I have growing kids. Sometimes we see things a little bit differently. We eliminate them, we discourage them. There’s dialogue, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them. But we get different things.
“I think the same thing is going to happen in this situation. There may be differences of opinion, a slightly different perspective, but above all, all of this will probably lead to an even more intense dialogue.”
The Lions move from Martha Ford to Hamp and go through two coaches (Caldwell and Matt Patricia), and the general manager replaces Bob Quinn with Brad Holmes while Johnson is absent from the franchise.
For the first time since, it looks like Johnson and the club are on their way to a meeting. Johnson holds the Lions record for receiving (731), receiving yards (11,619) and touchdown receptions (83).
Fans were excited to see how the Lions made good on their star receiver – and Johnson spoke about the fans and the city where he has lived for more than a decade during his Hall of Fame press conference.
“For you, that’s it. You were everything to us,” Johnson said. “You filled the stadium. You brought energy every Sunday, even though it was between 0 and 16 during my time there [in 2008], but you still believed in us, you all believed in the city and you all believed that one day we would have a Super Bowl winner there.
“I hope for your sake that I can enjoy my entire adult life in Michigan as soon as possible. I’m still here, and I love you guys, and I thank you for all the support and love you’ve given me from then to now. And Detroit, the number one city in my heart, for sure”.