ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The rift has been open for a while now between retired Detroit Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson and the franchise with whom he spent his entire career.
The Lions have said Johnson is more than welcome to return. Johnson has made it clear why he won’t -- the Lions asked him to repay at least $1 million of the signing bonus owed to him off his last contract.
Johnson did it, but he has had nothing to do with the organization since.
With Johnson potentially heading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month in his first year of eligibility, Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp was asked for the first time about the separation between the two sides, why the Lions asked for the money in the first place and whether they would repay Johnson the money he gave back to them in order to bring him back into the organization.
“Well, I’m not going to go into the money issue, but I hope we can repair things with Calvin Johnson,” Hamp said. “He was obviously an amazing player for us, and 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 come back into the Lions family. We’d love if he could or he will.
“So, and we are 100 percent behind him for his Hall of Fame ballots and hope that he gets it this time. He was a great, great player and a terrific person, and we would love to have him back with us and working with us and helping us with everything.”
Earlier this month, Lions team president Rod Wood said nothing has changed in the team’s status with Johnson but added they want to repair the relationship. Johnson has said multiple times over the years the way for Detroit to repair the relationship is to pay him back.
Since Johnson retired, he has appeared on "Dancing with the Stars," finishing third, along with mentoring receivers heading to the NFL, working with his foundation and his youth camps and running a cannabis startup with former Lions teammate Rob Sims.
Johnson finished his career with 731 catches for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. He’s up for enshrinement in Canton this year -- the meeting to discuss his candidacy was held Tuesday -- along two of his contemporaries, quarterback Peyton Manning and cornerback Charles Woodson.
Johnson is not the first legendary player Detroit has had issues with in retirement. Barry Sanders had a separation from the team for years after his retirement because of a similar issue over the repayment of money to the franchise.