Signs point to Lions losing C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency

The Lions may want to bring C.J. Gardner-Johnson back after an injury-truncated 2023 season, but the tea leaves suggest he'll be gone.
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As the first week of 2023 free agency ended, the Detroit Lions got what looked like an incredible steal when they agreed to a one-year, $8 million deal with C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Coming off tying for the league lead in interceptions with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022, Gardner-Johnson was the kind of ball hawk the Detroit secondary needed.

But it did not come to fruition. Gardner-Johnson suffered a torn pectoral in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, and made a speedy recovery to play in the regular season finale and all three playoff games. Gardner-Johnson did have two interceptions when he did play, as a tease of what he could have done.

Simply put, the sample size of Gardner-Johnson's play was just not enough all the way around. When he returned to action, the emergence of Ifeatu Melifonwu led to a three-man rotation at safety (including Kerby Joseph of course) he was not thrilled about.

Signs are pointing to Lions losing C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency

The Lions can re-sign Gardner-Johnson at any point before free agency starts. Pro Football Network pointed to how his versatility would be "a fit for more than half the league " and that he's just 26 years old. Gregg Rosenthal of has Gardner-Johnson at No. 19 on his ranking of free agents, using Tyrann Mathieu as a comp.

Tony Pauline of Sportskeeda got a little more specific in terms of a team who could be in on Gardner-Johnson.

"The Philadelphia Eagles will look to bring in a safety in the offseason, via free agency or the draft. People at the combine get the sense that there’s a real chance the Eagles bring back C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who is scheduled to hit the free-agent market. Gardner-Johnson played for the Eagles in 2022 before signing a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions last year."

Gardner-Johnson may have to settle for another one-year deal, coming off missing most of a season and with three straight seasons where he has missed noticeable time. Apart from that, the Lions can't offer Gardner-Johnson a clear-cut starting role like a lot of other teams could. If he wants that starting opportunity in an effort to get a multi-year contract, a return to Detroit simply won't be happening.

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