March 20, 2023   4 MIN READ

See Ya, C.J.

Gardner-Johnson Bolts Birds For Lions 1-year Deal


The Eagles lost a major piece of their secondary to free agency late Sunday, when C.J. Gardner-Johnson surprisingly signed a one-year deal with the Lions.

Gardner-Johnson, who shared the NFL lead in interceptions with six in his one year with the Eagles, will make $8 million with Detroit in what amounts to a prove-it deal for the 25-year-old defensive back.

Despite his breakout season with the Eagles, who acquired him in a trade with the Saints near the end of training camp, Gardner-Johnson and the Eagles couldn’t come to an agreement on an extension before the new league year began last Wednesday, making Gardner-Johnson a free agent.

CJ Gardner Johnson

Sources had told Inside The Birds that the Eagles wanted to bring him back, but after Gardner-Johnson hit the open market, the Eagles made moves to bring back cornerback James Bradberry on a three-year deal and give their other corner, Darius Slay, a new deal with more guaranteed money.

On social media, Gardner-Johnson’s representation – in response to reports that the Eagles offered Gardner-Johnson a better deal than Detroit’s – indicated that the Eagles’ three-year offer wasn’t a better offer over the long haul, even calling some of the Eagles’ deal “fake.”

Gardner-Johnson also had a contract dispute with the Saints, who drafted him in the fourth round in 2019 as a nickel corner, but then traded him after both sides couldn’t agree on an extension. They also sent a seventh-rounder to the Eagles in exchange for a fifth-rounder and seventh-rounder .

Regardless of the difference in opinion, the reality is that Gardner-Johnson isn’t returning to Philadelphia and needs to have another season like 2022 with the Lions in order to get a better long-term deal in free agency next season, and the Eagles desperately need to rebuild the depleted middle of their defense.

The Eagles lost both starting linebackers – T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White – in free agency, along with both starting safeties, Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps.

At one point, Gardner-Johnson appeared prime to be with the Eagles way beyond 2023. His sudden move to safety reaped great benefits, as he picked off six passes in the first 11 games, including five straight games with an interception.

Gardner-Johnson suffered a lacerated kidney that sidelined him for five games, but he still finished with the league’s lead for interceptions and proved his value as a hybrid defender for the Eagles’ top-rated pass defense.

It’s possible his fluctuation between safety and nickel caused some market uncertainty, along with 2022 being his most productive season. Free-agent safety Jesse Bates III, the top safety on the market, scored an enormous deal with the Falcons for around $16 million annually, while most of the other free-agent safeties drew contracts between $6-$8 million annually.

The Eagles were wise to refrain from using the franchise tag on Gardner-Johnson, which would’ve paid him about $14 million for 2023, but their inability to figure out how to retain him left them with more questions than answers at the position.

The team’s top safeties are second-year pro Reed Blankenship, an undrafted rookie from last year, along with K’von Wallace, a 2020 fourth-round pick who has played sparingly.

After them are Andre Chachere, a specal-teamer, and perhaps hybrid defensive back Triston McCullom, who signed a futures deal.

– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the β€œInside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for

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