Rod Wood wants Calvin Johnson back in the Detroit Lions family, and the greatest wide receiver in the organization's history is open to that idea under one condition.
"They already know what they got to do," Johnson told the Free Press at the annual camp he runs for local high school students Saturday in metro Detroit. "The only way they’re going to get me back is they put that money back in my pocket. Nah, you don’t do that. I don’t care what they say. They can put it back, then they can have me back. That’s the bottom line."
Wood, the Lions president, said in May that re-establishing a relationship with Johnson is "a very high priority" for the organization, three years after the sides parted ways on bad terms.
Johnson retired unexpectedly after the 2015 season, and when he made his retirement official, the Lions forced him to repay a seven-figure portion of the $16 million signing bonus he received four years earlier.
Wood said at the team's Taste of the Lions event he hoped to have a Barry Sanders-like relationship with Johnson, and hoped to bring Johnson back into the fold before he's eligible to go into the Hall of Fame in 2021.
Calvin Johnson dunks the ball over the goal post after his third-quarter touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in Detroit on Nov. 28, 2013. (Photo: Julian H. Gonzalez, Detroit Free Press)
Sanders, like Johnson, was forced to repay a seven-figure portion of his signing bonus when he retired abruptly before the 1999 season.
The Lions and Sanders had a strained relationship for years, but Sanders now works as a paid ambassador for the team.
"I want to kind of try and find a way to do something similar to what we’ve been doing with Barry if Calvin would be interested," Wood said. "So that’s on my agenda to get to him and talk about it."
Johnson said he hasn't heard from Wood or the organization yet, though receiver Marvin Jones, offensive lineman Leo Koloamatangi and several rookies helped out at his football camp Saturday.
"I ain’t talked to Rod. I don’t even want to talk about that," Johnson said. "I don’t have no reason to talk about that. I don’t even talk about the Lions. I mean, I talk to my Lions that came out here to help me out today. Had the rookies, Marv came out, they did a great job with the kids. I appreciate them so much for that. Just hope to keep those kind of relationships rolling for in the future because these kids, man, they take so much from that."
In retirement, Johnson has continued to run free football camps in Michigan and his native Georgia, and provides scholarships through his foundation, which hosts its annual Catching Dreams gala later in June.
Johnson also is heavily involved in real estate and other business in the area, and received preliminary approval for a license to open a medical marijuana dispensary in February.
The Lions are expected to honor some of their all-time great players as part of the NFL's 100th season celebration this fall, and could formally retire several uniform numbers at that time.
Johnson said he's "not sweating" being a part of that celebration — "Whether it happens or not, either way it’s whatever," he said — and he's not yet thinking about the next level of his legacy as a future Pro Football Hall-of-Famer.
Johnson will be on the ballot for the first time next year, and could join a star-studded 2021 class that's also likely to include Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson.
"I don’t even know when I’m due or when it comes up," Johnson said. "I know it’s coming, cause everybody keeps talking about it. I’m just like, 'Guys, I’m not really talking about it.' I don’t worry about it, I don’t talk about it. It’s just not nothing’s that’s in the forecast right now. I’m just focusing on all that stuff I got in front of me right now. If it happens, it happens, and that’ll be fricking awesome."
Contact Dave Birkett at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
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