ALLEN PARK — Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions continue to inch closer to reconciliation.
It’s not all the way home yet. But Johnson and the Lions have made significant ground in recent years. Johnson was spotted next to fellow Lions legend Barry Sanders to greet the team’s two newest first-round picks last month.
This week, though? Johnson was spotted at one of Detroit’s Organized Team Activities. The iconic wide receiver stopped by for a hug and chat with former teammate and current Lions head coach Dan Campbell. And Johnson was spotted in team photos talking with general manager Brad Holmes, former teammate and current staffer Don Muhlbach, not to mention receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Marvin Jones.
Related: Detroit Lions believe relationship with Calvin Johnson is on the right track
“Listen, I can never say enough about Calvin. He was — I just go back to this, it was a short period of time when I was with him, but he was an unbelievable teammate,” Campbell said on Thursday. “But I mean, he was the ultimate teammate, and those (superstardom and being a teammate) don’t always go hand-in-hand. You would always love it to be that, but I mean this guy was, you talk about a grinder or worker, mentally wanted to know it, did not want to let the guy next to him down and you’re a rare talent.
“So, to have him out here, there’s a level of respect that will always be there for me, but even our players, they know who he is. Anybody who has played around this game, they understand the type of player he was from a production standpoint. I wish they knew what kind of teammate he really was. I wish they had a chance to actually play with him. But it’s good to have him here, it is. It’s good. It’s good for us.”
For those needing a quick refresher, the Lions came after Johnson’s signing bonus after the first-ballot hall of famer retired. They made Johnson return $1.6 million, and things went off the rails. The situation has improved little by little. But it’s hard to forget Johnson saying the only way he’s coming back is if “they put that money back in my pocket.”
The Lions have maintained that the relationship between the two sides has been on the right track. At the league’s annual meetings, team president Rod Wood said the team started bridging that gap by getting chief operating officer Mike Disner involved in the process.
Disner credited some of the growth to shared friends and acquaintances opening the door to have those tough talks and listen to Johnson’s side of the ordeal. And Johnson has seemed warmer toward the Lions in recent years, with his love for Campbell and desire to work with some of the younger players.
And Johnson told the Detroit Free Press that he respects Disner’s work in repairing the bridge, saying: “our path is slowly but surely moving forward.” But he revealed in the same interview that he hasn’t spoken with team owner Sheila Ford Hamp since he was inducted into the hall. Johnson said there isn’t a relationship other than the pair being cordial.
“And I think it’s, you know, obviously, it’s the right thing for us, and I think it’s the right thing for Calvin, too,” Disner said in March. “We’ll get past the history, and I think it’ll be a win for everybody.”