Lions HC confirms excellent news on defensive stud, credits ‘mutant genes’


C.J. Gardner-Johnson suffered a torn pectoral muscle in Week 2, altering his chance to impress this season and command a more lucrative deal for the 2024 season. Months later, the Lions safety has a chance to come back.

Rumored to not be shutting down his effort to play again this season, the fifth-year DB is indeed moving close to a return. Gardner-Johnson received medical clearance Thursday, and Dan Campbell said the free-agent pickup will be ready to return “pretty soon,” per ESPN’s Eric Woodyard.

“He’s one of the X-Men, he’s got these mutant genes because he has healed extremely quickly, and he’s gotten his strength back. It is secure,” Campbell said. “So, yeah, he’s going to be ready to go here pretty soon.”

The Lions have not yet designated Gardner-Johnson for return from IR. He would have three weeks to be activated once his practice window opens. Based on Campbell’s comments, it sounds likely the Lions will have Gardner-Johnson back in uniform before the regular season concludes. The team is in fairly good shape for injury activations, holding five IR-return moves. Alim McNeill joins Gardner-Johnson in being expected back late this season.

The team has lost two of its top five secondary cogs this season; cornerback Emmanuel Moseley suffered a second ACL tear in two years not long after Gardner-Johnson went down. The Lions added four key pieces to their secondary this offseason (CJGJ, Moseley, Cameron Sutton, Brian Branch) but have been without two of them for months. Tracy Walker, who suffered an Achilles tear early last season, has returned to a regular role in Gardner-Johnson’s absence.

While Moseley will be hitting free agency on the heels of another injury-marred season, Gardner-Johnson looks set to have a chance at reestablishing his momentum. Rumored to be a player the Eagles wanted back, Gardner-Johnson saw his market not produce what he expected. He signed a one-year, $6.5M Lions deal. Although Gardner-Johnson played in the slot under former Saints DBs coach Aaron Glenn, the third-year Lions DC kept him at safety, where the Eagles stationed him last season. Gardner-Johnson’s six INTs tied for the NFL lead last year.

The soon-to-be 26-year-old cover man’s chances of scoring a better contract may have taken a hit because of his injury, but making key contributions and showing no hiccups upon returning from this early-season setback would help his cause ahead of free agency. The Lions have exclusive negotiating rights with Gardner-Johnson until next year’s legal tampering period.

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