The Detroit Lions continue to be in an aggressive mode in free agency, reportedly agreeing to a steal of a deal with safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson Sunday night.
This free agency period has been a change in mode for Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes compared to his first two. After addressing the biggest need on the roster by signing cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Sunday night the Lions have agreed to a one-year deal with safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
According to Pelissero, the deal is worth $8 million with $6.5 million fully guaranteed.
Gardner-Johnson was widely considered the top remaining defensive free agent as the first week of free agency rolled on and now moved toward the second wave.
Gardner-Johnson spent the 2022 season with the Philadelphia Eagles after a late offseason trade from the New Orleans Saints. He tied for the league lead with six interceptions for the NFC champions, while tallying 67 tackles, eight pass breakups and one sack in 12 regular season games.
Gardner-Johnson joins a Lions safety group that includes Tracy Walker, who is working his way back from a torn Achilles, and young ballhawk Kerby Joseph.
Detroit Lions know what they’re getting with C.J. Gardner-Johnson
Gardner-Johnson was drafted by the Saints in 2019. He overlapped there for two seasons with Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who was the Saints’ defensive backs coach. Lions head coach Dan Campbell was of course on the staff in New Orleans then too, on the other side of the ball as tight ends coach.
Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press passed along Glenn’s comments about Gardner-Johnson from a couple years ago.
Gardner-Johnson is primarily a safety by trade, but he can play as a slot/nickel corner as well. He’s about as scheme-versatile as it gets, and if the Lions were going to make a splash at safety after losing DeShon Elliott he was easy to point to as it.
Gardner-Johnson lamented what he was finding on the market in what appears to be a since-deleted tweet, and it’s pretty clear he and his agent miscalculated his actual value. At a certain point, he was not going to be going back to the Eagles due to their long list of free agents.
As Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer hinted at in one of his notes about the signing, Gardner-Johnson has missed five games in each of the last two seasons.
For what it’s worth at this point, though they do use age and production comps, Spotrac had Gardner-Johnson’s market value projected at $13.3 million on a five-year deal. Based on that, the Lions got a massive steal to get him on what amounts to a prove-it deal.
Even without knowing that projected market value, the Lions got a 25-year old safety who could become a long-term piece of their secondary on a bargain deal. In the span of a week, the Lions’ biggest weakness last season (the secondary) now looks like one of their biggest strengths.