The Detroit Lions have an interesting decision ahead when it comes to veteran defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The animated defender has proven to be a valuable asset in the NFL—leading the NFL with six interceptions in 2022—but his 2023 season with the Lions was a letdown derailed by injury. A torn pectoral muscle caused him to miss 14 games, and even though he worked incredibly hard to return just in time for their playoff push and postseason games, he only had a rotational role when he made his way back on the field.
Still, Lions rookie cornerback Brian Branch wants Gardner-Johnson back. On Monday, Branch went to Twitter to respond to a social media post asking Lions fans if the team should re-sign Gardner-Johnson, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million contract with the team last year.
Branch didn’t mince words.
“Yes bring this mf back,” Branch tweeted.
Gardner-Johnson landed third on our Lions free agency ranking, but as Erik Schlitt pointed out, there’s an issue of where he’d fit on the roster if Detroit brought him back:
While Gardner-Johnson is a positional versatile talent with Pro Bowl upside, the Lions don’t have a clear path to an open starting role at any of the positions he plays. With the rise of Ifeatu Melifonwu and Kerby Joseph at safety and the emergence of Brian Branch in the slot, the Lions may prefer to keep their homegrown talent in high-contributing roles.
Would it be worth it to pay Gardner-Johnson knowing he may not occupy a starting job?
It’s hard to know what kind of money Gardner-Johnson will be seeking in free agency. He bet on himself in 2023 by signing a one-year deal, and, unfortunately, injuries prevented him from proving himself. Would he be willing to sign another affordable deal in Detroit? Otherwise, it may be hard to see him returning to what could be another rotational role in this defense—something he clearly wasn’t happy about at the end of the year.
That said, if Branch—a player whose skillset greatly overlaps with Gardner-Johnson—wants him back, maybe it’d be good to have a mentor in the locker room who can also ball out.