Calvin Johnson’s relationship with the Detroit Lions—the only NFL team that ever employed him—has been almost completely nonexistent since his sudden retirement following the 2015 season. A money dispute over his signing bonus caused a fracture with the franchise that has yet to be mended.
Fans have been stuck in the middle of it all, torn between their love of the team they believed was only acting with the best franchise intentions and the admiration for one of the best players to ever don the Honolulu Blue. They could only watch in horror as Johnson traveled to other teams’ training camp to use his incredible experience to help coach up their players.
But it appears Johnson has taken the first step towards fixing that relationship. Approached by Lions wide receivers coach Robert Prince—the only remaining coach from his time in Detroit, and one he still has a relationship with—Johnson agreed to meet with the Lions’ wide receiver corps this summer via a Zoom call.
“It was good to speak to those guys, because I used to play, I know what it takes to play in the NFL,” Johnson told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press on a recent podcast. “I admire those guys for what they do.”
Johnson has spent much of his retirement giving back to the game of football. He frequently holds youth football camps in Michigan and has visited offseason practices for both the Dolphins and the Raiders in the past.
Now helping out with the Lions, he’s impressed with the set of receivers they’ve got right now.
“Love watching Kenny Golladay,” Johnson said. “Nice to have Danny (Amendola) come over. And, Marvin (Jones Jr.), love to see those guys out there, man. My heart goes out to Marvin, (for) the loss they suffered, and that’s terrible. But they’re great guys, and I like seeing good guys do well. I got love for those players, for sure.”
So what was his message to the Lions’ receiving corps, who has promises of being one of the best sets in the league in 2020?
“I keep it like this: Everyday training and everything that you’re doing—right now the times are different with the pandemic—but whether you’re with the team or at home, things can get mundane. But if you try to take something for good or bad in your game, your strengths and your weaknesses, you know what they are, and work on those things—good and bad, you don’t just want to work on the bad things and forget about the good things that you do—and literally just take one thing at a time. Work on each thing on a daily basis and stack good days up on top of each other.
“Break it down a little bit further, in working on those things on a daily basis. Like, ‘Hey, today I’m going to be working on seeing the point of the ball into my hands. Tomorrow I’m going to work on the top of my routes. The next day I’m going to work on fitting my hands and blocking.’
“Just taking those things, and not just doing them, it’s putting the perfect effort into those. Understand you’re not going to be perfect, but really trying to hone in on those skills. Like I said, ‘That’s one good day. I put it here. Okay, that’s another good day. I stack it on top of that.’ Essentially, when you stack those good days up of practices, that stuff just translates to the field.”
Unfortunately, Johnson’s relationship with the organization as a whole remains, in his words, “nil.” With Johnson’s potential Hall of Fame induction coming in early 2021, many are hoping the two mend the fences by then, but the two sides don’t even appear to be interested in talking right now, according to Johnson.
“There’s no back and forth there, and that’s fine with me,” Johnson said. “I’m handling my business, I’m sure they’re handling theirs.”
If you have a Detroit Free Press subscription, you can listen to the entire 38-minute interview with Johnson here. Other topics include what the Hall of Fame means to him, his health in the NFL and today, and how the pandemic has affected his life.