In a significant move to bolster their defense, the Detroit Lions have inked a one-year contract worth up to $8 million, including $6.5 million guaranteed, with versatile defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The signing reunites Gardner-Johnson with Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who has a decade-long history with the player.
Their relationship began when Gardner-Johnson was just 15 years old, attending a high school training event called The Opening in Oregon. Glenn, who was there to support former teammate Ray Mickens in coaching the defensive backs, noticed Gardner-Johnson’s exceptional talent. Glenn benched him at the event when he felt Gardner-Johnson wasn’t taking direction from coaches, setting the foundation for their future interactions.
The pair joined forces again in New Orleans when the Saints selected Gardner-Johnson in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Glenn quickly identified the best way to capitalize on Gardner-Johnson’s talents: as a modern-day hybrid slot defensive back. Over two seasons under Glenn’s guidance, Gardner-Johnson thrived in this role.
Last season with the Eagles, Gardner-Johnson spent more than half of his snaps at free safety. However, his standout moments came when working from the slot. Gardner-Johnson’s safety experience also serves as insurance for Tracy Walker as he recovers from Achilles surgery.
When Walker returns to full health, Gardner-Johnson is expected to become the Lions’ starting slot defensive back. The addition of Gardner-Johnson, Cameron Sutton, and Emmanuel Moseley bolsters the Lions’ defensive depth, while retaining starting corners Jeff Okudah, Jerry Jacobs, and Harris from last season. However, Sutton is the only player among the six signed beyond 2023, leaving the possibility of further investment in the position through the NFL Draft.
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