While this offseason has mostly been defined by the deteriorating relationship between Calvin Johnson and the Lions, the team has continued to improve their working relationship with the greatest player in franchise history.
Late Thursday night, Justin Rogers of The Detroit News reported the team has brought Barry Sanders back onto the organization’s payroll as a “brand ambassador.”
“We’ve thankfully, the last couple years, had an unofficial relationship with him,” said Rod Wood about the team’s relations with Sanders. “This year, we formalized it.”
For Sanders, this means he’ll be doing things like going on road trips with the team, making suite visits, and attending the annual Taste of the Lions event.
“It’s a formal agreement,” continued Wood. “I worked with Barry and his agent to put something together that works for both of us. It’s not a football role. It’s more of a marketing, business role.”
Rogers makes note of the open-door policy the team has with former players, welcoming them to attend all sorts of activities including team practices, finding a spot on the sideline during games or participating in events within the community.
When it comes to Sanders, this seems like the final step in repairing a relationship that’s had its share of ups and downs for almost two decades since he decided to walk away from football prematurely at the age of 30.
Wood’s work with Sanders isn’t an endgame to improving the team’s standing with its alumni, but he can use this experience as a blueprint to restoring the relationship between Calvin and the Lions.
“I’m not going to try and draw comparisons to the two,” said Wood about the similarities between the Calvin saga and what went on when Sanders retired. “I wasn’t here when Barry left, but I’ve been really involved bringing him back into the fold. Like I’ve said, I’m confident the Calvin situation will work itself out.”
Recently, in a radio interview with WJR Radio, Wood told the station and its listeners that he’s extended an invitation to Calvin Johnson to attend the Lions upcoming training camp. It’s an obvious attempt to mend the strained relationship between the team and its former All-Pro wide receiver, but it’s one necessary to maintain that open-door policy and avoid the comparisons between Barry and Calvin to continue.