Team president Rod Wood sounds confident that Johnson might join the Lions after the team sent a formal invitation. Johnson retired before the 2016 season and said recently that he walked away because the franchise was not close to reaching the Super Bowl.
"As I said on WJR (Radio), we had a very nice, cordial exchange," Wood said of his discussion with the receiver known as Megatron. "I'm hoping he comes. I'm not going to say anymore beyond that. I do have confidence it'll work out ultimately."
The optimisic outlook comes on the same day the Lions announced an ambassador role for Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, who retired at age 31 unexpectedly almost 18 years ago.
Johnson, now 31, was in the middle of a eight-year, $132 million deal he signed in March 2012 when he walked away. The Lions reportedly demanded a reimbursement of bonus money paid with the total over $1 million.
The Lions were charged $12.9 million in dead money for Johnson's salary in 2016 and moved on via free agency, retaining Golden Tate and signing free agent Marvin Jones from the Cincinnati Bengals. The Lions spent their third-round pick in April on wide receiver Kenny Golladay.
Jones is represented by Bus Cook, who helped usher quarterback Brett Favre out of an abbreviated retirement. Other prominent players have returned from a year away from the game, most recently running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch was traded from the Seahawks to the Oakland Raiders in the offseason after deciding he wanted to play another season. Lynch sat out the entire 2016 season.