Lions, as expected, lose C.J. Gardner-Johnson to Eagles in free agency

C.J. Gardner-Johnson was not going to be back with the Lions, but he is reportedly gone back to the Philadelphia Eagles with a significant-looking contract.
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The signs were building, and a team was even out there. C.J. Gardner-Johnson was not going to be coming back to the Detroit Lions in free agency, it's just a matter of where he was going to go. On Tuesday evening, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported "Ceedy Deuce" is going back to the Philadelphia Eagles on a three-year deal worth up to $33 million.

Gardner-Johnson tied for the league lead in interceptions playing for the NFC Champion Eagles in the 2022, and he confirmed the news on Twitter.

Gardner-Johnson's lone season in Detroit did not go anywhere near as expected. A torn pectoral in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks sidelined him until the regular season finale, and he played in all three playoff games (including a notable interception of Baker Mayfield in the Divisional Round).

Upon his return to action, Gardner-Johnson was openly not necessarily thrilled to be part of a three-man safety rotation with Kerby Joseph and the emerging Ifeatu Melifonwu.

"Getting into a rotation? I’m cool with it, but I mean, how can I say this? I don’t want to sound like I’m selfish or an a**shole, but I ain’t get back early to be in a rotation,” “But I’m doing what I need to do as a team player to get my body going per se. But I’ve been ready for almost months.”

That set the stage for him to be one-and-done as a Lion, especially since he would surely be able to find a clear-cut starting job elsewhere as a safety/nickel corner when free agency started. It wasn't even necessarily going to be an issue of cost, but the surface terms of Gardner-Johnson's deal with Eagles is territory the Lions were never going to get to.

Detroit Lions free agency: C.J. Gardner-Johnson not as big as loss at it might seem

Quite simply, Gardner-Johnson didn't play enough last season to be a huge free agency loss for the Lions. He had two interceptions in six games, yes, but the sample was not enough, His attitude and veteran savvy were welcome, but it also got him in trouble in the NFC Championship Game when he picked up a stupid penalty for a late hit on Deebo Samuel.

The Lions are in line to add depth to their safety depth chart, with only Joseph, Melifonwu and Brandon Joseph currently under contract after Tracy Walker was cut and Gardner-Johnson's looming and expected departure.

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