Open in App
Sporting News

CJ Gardner-Johnson contract: Agency explains why DB spurned Eagles for one-year deal with Lions

By Jacob Camenker,


The Eagles lost another free agent on Sunday when it was reported that versatile defensive back CJ Gardner-Johnson would be joining the Lions.

It wasn't a major surprise that Gardner-Johnson was leaving the cap-strapped Eagles. What did catch many off-guard, however, was the fact that the talented defender was only able to earn a one-year deal for his services.

The Lions are paying Gardner-Johnson, 25, a one-year contract that will have a maximum value of $8 million. That seems like a bargain considering that he logged a league-high six interceptions last season despite playing in only 12 regular-season games.

So, why was Detroit able to land Gardner-Johnson on the cheap? Here's what we know about his decision to sign with the Lions and the potential offer he had to return to the Eagles.

IYER: Ranking each team's performance in NFL free agency from best (Bears) to worst (Packers)

Why did CJ Gardner-Johnson sign with the Lions?

Gardner-Johnson's fit with the Lions is a sensible one. Why? Well, for one, the Lions needed help in the secondary. Their defense was weak at cornerback last season and they lost safety DeShon Elliott in free agency.

The Lions will be able to use Gardner-Johnson at both positions. If they feel that he is best served playing next to safety Kerby Joseph, who had a strong rookie season, they can put him there. If Tracy Walker is healthy enough to start at safety, Gardner-Johnson can play outside at cornerback and move the slot in nickel situations.

Certainly, Gardner-Johnson will provide the Lions with an upgrade to their defense. It also helps that he is familiar with both head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn from their time together in New Orleans. Those two are excited to bring Gardner-Johnson aboard, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

All that's to say that Detroit is a great landing spot for Gardner-Johnson. He should help the Lions as they effort a playoff push after falling just short of the postseason last year.

NFL DRAFT 2023: SN's latest first-round mock | Updated big board

Why didn't CJ Gardner-Johnson sign with the Eagles?

The answer to this question is a bit more complex. Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Eagles wanted to keep Gardner-Johnson and made a multi-year offer to keep him in free agency.

However, Gardner-Johnson wanted more than what the Eagles were offering. From there, he decided to test the open market while Philadelphia focused on re-signing James Bradberry and Darius Slay. Once that happened, the Eagles could no longer afford Gardner-Johnson.

Gardner-Johnson appeared to deny this point. He quote-tweeted McLane's post on Sunday and wrote "cap" — slang for lies — with a baseball cap emoji in a since-deleted post .

And on Monday, Gardner-Johnson's agency refuted that claim as well. Universal Sports & Entertainment Mgmt. took to Twitter and outlined the terms of the contracts offered to the veteran defensive back. It explained that the Eagles' deal was backloaded and therefore wouldn't be as good an option for Gardner-Johnson.

Certainly, if these are the terms offered to Gardner-Johnson, it's easy to understand why he would take the deal from the Lions. It provides him an opportunity to make $8 million and will give him the opportunity to cash in on the free agent market in 2024 as a 26-year-old free agent.

At the same time, we don't know the exact structure of the three-year deal. So, it's hard to fully compare the two.

Either way, what we do know is that Gardner-Johnson struck out in his efforts to become one of the league's highest-paid safeties. Now, he will look to prove that the NFL undervalued the importance of his playmaking ability in 2023.

MORE: CJ Gardner-Johnson calls out Jonathan Gannon after Eagles' Super Bowl loss

CJ Gardner-Johnson contract

As mentioned, CJ Gardner-Johnson signed a one-year contract with the Lions worth up to $8 million . The structure of his deal has yet to be revealed in full, though it reportedly comes with $6.5 million in guarantees, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero .

Regardless of the structure, this payday is a big one for Gardner-Johnson, a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He made $5.3 million in career earnings in his first four NFL seasons and will easily exceed that total in 2023 alone.

Expand All
Comments / 0
Add a Comment
Local Detroit, MI newsLocal Detroit, MI
Most Popular newsMost Popular

Comments / 0