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2023 Lions free agent profile: C.J. Moore’s value goes beyond special teams

C.J. Moore proved time and time again that he can be an impact player on special teams. But is that enough to earn another contract?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Junfu Han-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions have 28 players from their 2022 roster set to become free agents in 2023 (18 unrestricted, 10 restricted), and we are covering them all throughout the month of February.

If you missed any of the previous articles, you can check them out here: RB Jamaal Williams, IOL Evan Brown, NT Isaiah Buggs, EDGE John Cominsky, LB Josh Woods, CB Will Harris, CB Mike Hughes, and CB Amari Oruwariye.

Next up:

C.J. Moore

Expectations heading into 2022

Moore re-signed with the Lions in the 2022 offseason, inking a one-year deal worth $1.75 million with $800,000 in guarantees—roughly the same amount he had earned the three previous years combined after joining Detroit as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Simply put, Moore proved during the previous season that he was too valuable on special teams to let leave.

In spring camp, Moore was in his typical role, operating as a reserve safety and starting special teamer. But over the summer, Moore suffered an undisclosed lower leg injury and opened up training camp on the NFI list. Moore spent the first several weeks of camp unable to practice, and when he did return, it wasn’t long before he re-injured his lower leg.

Moore’s re-injury could not have come at a worse time. Cuts were looming, and an injured Ifeatu Melifonwu was already taking up a roster spot in the secondary, forcing the Lions to keep JuJu Hughes for depth purposes. With the Lions' roster limited in space and unable to carry two injured safeties, Moore was waived with an injury settlement—forcing him to sit out the first six weeks of the season.

Once eligible to return, Moore initially signed onto the Texans practice squad, but it wasn’t long before he was asking his agent to find a way to get him back to Detroit. A week later the Lions poached him off the Texans practice squad and re-signed him to a veteran minimum, one-year contract.

“Coach Dan (Campbell) and (general manager) Brad (Holmes), they’re building something so special and it’s something that I want to be a part of,” Moore said in the locker room following a win over the Vikings. “That’s really why I came back. You could feel it last year. We ended the season well and this season didn’t start off too well, but we’ve known it’s been here and it’s showing.”

Actual role in 2022

Special Teams:
11 games (11 starts): 224 snaps (49.7% over season, 78% in games played)
Stats: 5 tackles, 2 fake punt runs (both conversions), 55 rushing yards
PFF Special teams grade: 81.5 (80th of 1879 players with at least 200 special teams snaps)

On Moore’s first snap in the all-important personal protector (PP) role on the punt team, Moore received a direct snap against the Dolphins, executing a fourth down fake for 13 yards and achieving a first down.

Moore is one of the best PP’s in the NFL. In that role, he aligns the punt team and sets up blockers to protect punter Jack Fox, while also giving special teams coordinator Dave Fipp an aggressive option on fakes. Moore has legitimate 4.4 speed and a keen understanding of how to read the opponent's scheme, which makes him a legitimate weapon most teams don’t have.

Those instincts showed up again in Week 14 when Fipp called Moore’s number on a fake punt/run, this time on a fourth-and-8 from their own 26-yard-line. And once again, Moore simply does not miss.

While Moore’s value on special teams is arguably worth a roster spot on its own, he has also shown the capability to be a reliable reserve safety on defense who can step in when injuries occur.

11 games (0 starts): 106 snaps (9.3%)
Stats: 7 tackles, a pass defended, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a QB hit,
PFF Defensive grade: 70.0 (41st of 143 safeties with at least 100 defensive snaps)
PFF Coverage grade: 75.0 (18th of 143 safeties with at least 100 defensive snaps)

Moore’s sample size this season was relatively small, with only 106 defensive snaps, but he’s been efficient over his four years in the league. He performs best as a deep safety, where he can lean on his speed, and can be a steady option as a team’s fourth safety.

Outlook for 2023

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

When I ranked the Lions unrestricted free agents at the beginning of the offseason, Moore landed 11th on my list, but that’s mostly because of the potential logjam the Lions have at safety.

Starter/captain Tracy Walker is on his way back from an Achilles injury and is projecting a return for spring camp. Kerby Joseph is expected to hold down the other starting job after a wildly successful rookie season. DeShon Elliott is an unrestricted free agent, but he played a big role on the team last season, and the team may opt to bring him back as insurance for Walker. Melifonwu is still under contract, and with coaching expectations high for him, he seems in line for a reserve third or fourth safety role.

That doesn’t leave much room for Moore, assuming things play out as expected.

If the Lions and Elliott can’t reach a contract agreement, Moore would have an easier path to the roster as a potential fourth safety. But if the team does add Walker-insurance (Elliott or someone else), Moore will have to convince the coaching staff that he is valuable enough for them to keep a fifth safety on the roster.

For me, Moore is too valuable of a special teams player to let walk and the Lions should find a way to bring him back to the roster in 2023. From a roster construction standpoint, he does seem to have the odds stacked against him, but there are also a lot of questions about the safety group beyond Joseph.

Will Walker truly be ready to step into a starting role in camp? Who is the team’s third safety? Will Elliott return? Can the Lions trust Melifonwu to stay healthy and continue his developmental arc?

Moore is steady and reliable, if unspectacular on defense, while also being a difference-maker on special teams. That’s more than enough for me to find a way to bring him back in 2023 and maybe beyond.


What should the Lions do with C.J. Moore?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Re-sign him to a multi-year deal
    (322 votes)
  • 59%
    Re-sign him to a 1-year contract worth $1.75-$2M
    (568 votes)
  • 6%
    Let him test free agency
    (63 votes)
953 votes total Vote Now

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