When the Detroit Lions signed C.J. Gardner-Johnson, it was originally reported as a one-year, $8 million deal with $6.5 million guaranteed. Many believed that to be a steal for one of the best free agents on the market and a huge upgrade to the Lions’ secondary.
Well, it turns out the deal is even more team-friendly than initially reported. The deal is actually a one-year, $6.5 million contract that is fully guaranteed. And because the Lions added a void year to Gardner-Johnson’s deal, his cap hit for 2023 will only be $4.5 million.
To give you a sense of just how affordable this deal is to the Lions, a $4.5 million cap hit ranks Gardner-Johnson 36th in the league among NFL cornerbacks.
Of course, the addition of the voided year will ensure that the Lions take on dead cap in 2024, when Gardner-Johnson’s contract automatically voids. Here’s a look at the full structure of the deal:
To break it down simply: Gardner-Johnson’s $2.5 million salary is fully guaranteed and that will hit this year’s cap. He was also given a $4 million signing bonus that is paid right away, but because of the void year, the cap hit of that bonus will be split $2 million this year and $2 million next year.
So why was this reported as an $8 million deal initially? There are likely $1.5 million in incentives built into the contract for Gardner-Johnson to earn. If he earns them, they will be added to next year’s cap hit.
Overall, this doesn’t look like the best deal for Gardner-Johnson, but he does get all $6.5 million of it guaranteed with the opportunity to earn more based on his level of play. In essence, he’s betting on himself (again) to produce on the field and cash in next year. Meanwhile, the Lions now have a talented and motivated player who knows their system, loves their defensive coordinator, and comes at a very reasonable price.