5. C.J. Gardner-Johnson
2022 Team: Philadelphia Eagles
While a big splash to replace Elliott is unlikely, Gardner-Johnson bears mention since he’s a little more than a pure safety and he’s the best available at the position right now. He has played some slot corner in his career, and last season with the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles he led the NFL in interceptions (six) along with 67 total tackles, eight pass breakups and one sack. Along the way leading into free agency, many outlets matched him as a fit for the Lions.
Gardner-Johnson has a notable tie to the Lions coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn was the New Orleans Saints defensive backs coach from 2016-2020, overlapping with Gardner-Johnson for the last two of those seasons.
Of course the biggest thing with Gardner-Johnson is the cost. Spotrac has tabbed his market value at $13.3 million per year on a four-year deal. But structure can always reduce cap impact of a deal like that, and at 25 years old well into next season Gardner-Johnson is a potential long-term piece and tone-setter for the Lions’ secondary.
Brad Holmes has shifted into a different mode in free agency this year. So a big splash for Gardner-Johnson shouldn’t be ruled out just yet, and the longer he remains available the price may come down.