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Instant analysis of C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s free agency deal with Detroit Lions

The Lions make yet another big move towards overhauling their cornerback room by signing C.J. Gardner-Johnson to a one-year deal.

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After a busy first week of free agency, nobody was expecting any kind of late news to break late Sunday night, right? Wrong. Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes had no plans for a quiet evening—signing former defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson to a one-year contract worth up to $8 million.

Before we get more into the addition of Gardner-Johnson, can we just stop and appreciate how Holmes has flipped this secondary in a matter of several days? First it was bringing cornerback Cameron Sutton in on a three-year deal. Not long after that, news broke of Emmanuel Moseley also being added to the cornerbacks room. Now he goes and adds one of the more highly touted defenders on the market in Gardner-Johnson? And it was all done in an intelligent, calculated manner? Let the Honolulu blue kool-aid flow.

Gardner-Johnson has long-established ties to defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, and will bring an attitude to this defense that will surely help endear himself to fans in the Motor City. We talked about the Lions needing their Amon-Ra St. Brown or Penei Sewell on defense. Someone who isn’t afraid to talk smack to defenders or get a little chippy after the play. Gardner-Johnson is one of those football players who will come up and hit you in the mouth, get up, and immediately let you know that he is going to do it again.

My instant reaction: Beyond being a heat-seeking missile, Gardner-Johnson offers plenty of positional versatility with his ability to run and cover receivers, as well as make plays near the line of scrimmage. Similar to how I felt about the additions of Sutton and Moseley, I think this is a brilliant way to approach roster construction—blending a mix of short and long-term deals while overhauling a position group. The season could begin tomorrow and a starting trio of Sutton, Moseley, and Gardner-Johnson at the nickel would be a terrific situation for the Lions’ coaching staff to work with.

However, with both Gardner-Johnson and Moseley being on one-year deals in 2023, I still think Holmes ends up using one of his premium picks on a cornerback in the upcoming NFL Draft.


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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.