Will Lions-Calvin Johnson rift ever be resolved?

Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer

Every week, we take some of your questions for a Detroit Lions mailbag. To ask questions for a future mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email me at michael.rothstein@espn.com.

Now on to your questions after a quick programming note: This is the last Lions Mailbag until just before training camp starts in July.

Peter, I’ve learned to never say never, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be imminent. The issue, as we reported a year ago, has a lot to do with the Lions asking Johnson to repay some of his signing bonus (at least $1 million). Other franchises, for the most part, have not done that with generational talents who were the face of the franchise for a significant period of time. Of course, Detroit has shown to be different in this area since the club did a similar thing to Barry Sanders.

The situations were different, though. Sanders officially retired on the eve of training camp (although there were signs to expect it earlier). Johnson gave the Lions plenty of notice and retired during the offseason following the 2015 season. Johnson also retired, in part, due to accumulated injuries. So – and this is my opinion – he has a reasonable beef with the organization for asking for the money back.

But going back to the Sanders example. Sanders and the Lions had a rift that went to arbitration and eventually mended feelings. Sanders has been involved with the organization in recent years and was employed by the Lions as an ambassador to the community last year. But that took almost 20 years (although it thawed well before that). So my best guess is that at some point there is a reconciliation – but it could be a while.

Joe, this will be one of the most-watched things during training camp, in part because of who is going to be involved for the likely final spot or spots. Working on the likelihood that LeGarrette Blount, Kerryon Johnson and Theo Riddick will be on the roster that leaves one or two spots for Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington and fullback Nick Bellore.

And really, the path to five running backs happens one of two ways. The first would be if the Lions choose to keep a fullback – and that seems probable since Bellore is a three-pronged player who is a fullback, can play linebacker if necessary and is a special-teams stalwart. The other way is if one of the three expected-on-the-roster backs ends up injured during camp but might only be out until Week 3 or 4. If that happens, Detroit might keep five backs until that player is healed. At this point, those two scenarios are the most sensible for five backs.

JonJon, based off the spring it is likely Sylvester Williams. Now, the Lions didn’t have Ezekiel Ansah doing much during the spring, but Williams took a bunch of first-team reps and seems to be in line to get a lot of work in the middle of the defensive line. Of course, this could change if the Lions sign another free agent who could handle the middle but as of now, the Lions might rely on Williams more than initially thought. Whether that’s a good thing or not is unknown because Williams clearly has talent – but he’s also on his third team in three seasons. DeShawn Shead could make a big impact, but right now it appears he’s behind Teez Tabor and possibly Nevin Lawson on the depth chart opposite Darius Slay. Christian Jones also should make an impact, but more probably will be expected of Williams based on his position and the amount of snaps he could play.