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Detroit Lions rehire Barry Sanders almost 18 years after he retired

Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders has been a more visible presence around the Lions in recent years. Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Barry Sanders is officially coming back to the Detroit Lions.

Team president Rod Wood told the Detroit News the club has officially rehired its former star as a team ambassador. Sanders has been a more visible presence around the team the past few years, including showing up during halftime of some games and making an appearance this spring at the team's official offseason charity event, the Taste of the Lions.

"We've thankfully, the last couple years, had an unofficial relationship with him," Wood told the News. "This year, we've formalized it. You described it well, it's kind of a brand ambassador. He'll be going on road trips, showing up for suite visits, he'll be at the Taste of the Lions event and just interacting with our fans on behalf of the team.

"It's a formal agreement. 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."

Sanders, 49, holds almost every significant rushing record for the Lions. He is the No. 3 rusher in NFL history with 15,269 yards and holds the Lions' all-time rushing record by more than 10,000 yards over No. 2 Billy Sims, who rushed for 5,106 yards. Sanders' 99 rushing touchdowns are 57 more than Sims' total. Sanders was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

Now Sanders has signed a contract to be part of the Lions again, albeit in a much different capacity.

This comes almost 18 years to the week after he faxed a letter to the Wichita Eagle announcing his retirement from the NFL on the eve of training camp in 1999. After that, Sanders was not seen around the Lions for years as the team and its most recognizable player squabbled over the repayment of a signing bonus after his retirement announcement.

After arbitration, it was ruled Sanders would have to immediately repay $1.83 million of his signing bonus.

If that sounds familiar, there are similarities to what the Lions are going through now with the second-most-recognizable face in franchise history, Calvin Johnson, who retired in March 2016 and paid back at least $1 million of the signing bonus he owed the franchise. Johnson has spoken out in recent months about how he didn't like the way he was treated on the way out.

Johnson hasn't been around the team since his retirement, although Wood did invite him to training camp this week. However, the Lions have long said any alumni are welcome to attend practice, so it seems more of a ceremonial gesture than anything.

The News reported the agreement between Sanders and the Lions will include at least one appearance at training camp, and he'll primarily be used in events with fans and the community.