Lions Safety Could Be Leaving Detroit, Rejoining NFC Rival: Insider

Brian Branch

Getty Detroit Lions defensive back Brian Branch argued on social media that the team should re-sign safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

The Detroit Lions made a big move last offseason to bolster their struggling secondary, signing safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson away from the NFC Champions Philadelphia Eagles.

Now, one injury-plagued season later, Johnson could be on his way out of Detroit and headed back to Philadelphia.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that the Eagles have hopes of bringing Johnson back in free agency to once again anchor their secondary. Fowler added that there are other teams that could be in the running for the veteran safety.

“A C.J. Gardner-Johnson reunion in Philadelphia is on my radar,” Fowler wrote. “The Eagles realized they missed the talented safety in the secondary. Tennessee makes sense for him, too. Titans defensive coordinator Dennard Wilson is a big fan of Gardner-Johnson from their Philly days.”

Safety’s Rough Season in Detroit

The Lions had big hopes for Gardner-Johnson, who earned some big praise from general manager Brad Holmes and was slated to take over a starting role. During the team’s minicamp in June, head coach Dan Campbell noted that Gardner-Johnson was already taking over a leadership position and pushing teammates.

“He’s got a contagious energy,” Campbell said on June 7. “One of the reasons C.J. [Gardner-Johnson] is that way is because that’s how he gets his engine going. In turn, that just spills over into the offense and your teammates.

“You can’t help — the level of intensity. It raises. I think that makes everybody around you better and more competitive.”

The energy did not last long in the regular season. Johnson suffered a torn pectoral muscle in a Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and remained on injured reserve until the season finale.

Gardner-Johnson was not the only new acquisition to the secondary lost to injury in 2023. The Lions also signed cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who was injured in his first game back after recovering from a torn ACL and missed the remainder of the season.

C.J. Gardner-Johnson Could Be Headed Elsewhere

Other insiders believe that Gardner-Johnson will not be coming back to Detroit in 2024. Dallas Robinson of Pro Football Network predicted that he would sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers

“Steelers slot corner Chandon Sullivan is on track for free agency, while Pittsburgh might try to find a better second safety to play opposite Minkah Fitzpatrick this offseason,” Robinson wrote.

“Gardner-Johnson could compete for both roles and shouldn’t cost much after missing most of the 2023 campaign with a pectoral injury. Another one-year contract in the $6-8 million range could make sense.”’s Vito Chirco predicted Detroit’s chances of re-signing the veteran safety could come down to what kind of contract he is seeking for 2024. The Lions would have the chance to bring Garder-Johnson back on a short-term deal, Chirco predicted, but likely would not match long-term offers.

“Gardner-Johnson made $6.5 million on his one-year deal with the Lions in 2023,” Chirco wrote. “If I were Holmes, I’d be willing to re-sign Duce to a similar short-term contract (for one or two years at no more than $7 million/season).

“But, if he wants a long-term deal, I’d be out on the Gardner-Johnson sweepstakes.”

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