Detroit Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson is feared to be lost for the season with what is suspected to be a torn pectoral muscle, according to an NFL Network report. The medical evaluation is ongoing, but a team source confirmed to the Detroit News, “It’s not looking good for him.”
The injury is believed to have occurred early in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. Gardner-Johnson briefly exited the contest during the game’s opening drive, initially getting looked at on the field before trainers worked on his right arm on the bench. He returned for Detroit’s second defensive series and was able to finish the contest, playing every defensive snap the rest of the way.
Gardner-Johnson was a massive and unexpected free-agent addition for the Lions, signing a one-year deal after leading the league in interceptions for the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles a year ago.
“I’ll tell you what, when we talk about corners and talk about versatility, what we call position flex, CJ was a name that we’ve heard (defensive coordinator) Aaron Glenn talk about for the past couple years,” general manager Brad Holmes said shortly after the signing. “He’s always been a guy that’s always been — I don’t want to say the example — but we knew that was the fit of what we’re trying to bring. You see he’s a real dawg. He’s another guy that’s a smart football player. Again, he was another one that we didn’t know if it was going to happen or not but we were fortunate enough that the market came to a place that we were able to make it happen.”
Bringing an unmatched energy and passion to the practice field, Gardner-Johnson raised the intensity throughout training camp with his physical play and relentless trash talk. Most recently, he had started a campaign to get fans to wear blue ski masks at Ford Field, embracing the franchise’s villain persona. The on-field presence will be the most difficult part for the Lions to replace if the injury does end up shelving him the remainder of the season.
In terms of how the Lions would replace him in the lineup, the obvious first option will be Tracy Walker, the six-year veteran and former captain who has played 64 games for the Lions, including 37 starts. The additions of Gardner-Johnson and rookie Brian Branch had pushed Walker to the bench to open the season, but he gives the Lions and experienced option to solidify the back end.
“Tracy is a really good pro,” position coach Brian Duker said earlier this month. “He comes to work every day. I would say his role does not define his energy level. It does not define his attitude. He’s continued to be — his work ethic is there. His attitude is always there. He’s gonna play. At some point, we need him.”
The Lions already had braced losing Gardner-Johnson once since his signing, when he suffered a scary knee injury during training camp that turned out to relatively minor. In two games with the Lions, he racked up 13 tackles (12 solo) and two pass breakups.
It’s the latest in a rash of injuries for the Lions. The team also lost edge rushers James Houston and Josh Paschal for an extended stretch the past week and anticipate being without starting guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai for multiple games. Additionally, running back David Montgomery (thigh) and offensive tackle Taylor Decker (ankle) are day-to-day and questionable for Sunday’s game against Atlanta.