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CJ Gardner-Johnson’s 3 Best Fits In NFL Free Agency

  • Justin Melo
  • March 8, 2023
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Philadelphia Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson posted what felt like an official goodbye to the franchise via his social media pages. Gardner-Johnson is currently set to reach unrestricted free agency next week. The Eagles currently possess a modest $5 million in cap space, per Spotrac. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is unlikely to afford Gardner-Johnson, who could command close to $15 million annually.

The Eagles initially acquired Gardner-Johnson from the Saints (along with a seventh-round selection in the 2025 NFL Draft) ahead of the 2022 campaign in exchange for a fifth-round selection in 2023, and the worst of Philadelphia’s two sixth-round picks in 2024. Gardner-Johnson joined Philadelphia in a contract year and helped them advance to Super Bowl LVII. The price tag Philadelphia paid to acquire Gardner-Johnson makes letting him walk in free agency a reasonable decision.

Gardner-Johnson posted a league-high six interceptions this season. His services will be sought after. We’ve swiftly identified three potential landing spots.


The Lions require multiple defensive upgrades this offseason. Their 30th-ranked passing defense allowed 245.8 passing yards per contest. General manager Brad Holmes must add proven cornerbacks and safeties to their defensive backfield. Holmes possesses nearly $25 million in financial flexibility ahead of free agency. A ball-hawking safety like Gardner-Johnson should be near the top of Holmes’ wishlist. 

It’s also worth acknowledging that Lions head coach Dan Campbell served as the Saints’ associate head coach when New Orleans drafted Gardner-Johnson with a fourth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. Campbell knows Gardner-Johnson as well as any coach in the league. The culture fit in Detroit is an excellent one for Gardner-Johnson. The Lions are mere pieces away from legitimate postseason contention.


The Raiders recorded a league-low six interceptions in 2022. Only the New York Giants matched that ineptness from a takeaway perspective. Gardner-Johnson accounted for six interceptions himself. The Raiders also allowed a 29th-ranked 242.9 passing yards per game.

Playing alongside Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West is Vegas’ grim reality. The Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos could field high-octane passing attacks in 2022 as well following their additions of Kellen Moore and Sean Payton. Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler has nearly $45 million in cap space after releasing quarterback Derek Carr. Adding a safety like Gardner-Johnson could help Tre’Von Moehrig continue acclimating.


Falcons head coach Arthur Smith knows how a game-changing safety can impact the outcome of a football game after working alongside Kevin Byard in Tennessee. Terry Fontenot has $67.2 million in cap space and is finally positioned to be aggressive in free agency after mounting dead cap charges derailed 2021 and 2022. Atlanta’s secondary requires another transcending talent to pair with Richie Grant and A.J. Terrell.

Furthermore, new Saints defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen shares an extensive background with Gardner-Johnson. Nielsen was on New Orleans’ defensive staff when the Saints drafted Gardner-Johnson. He eventually became Gardner-Johnson’s associate head coach in 2021. Nielsen could pound the table for Gardner-Johnson in Atlanta.

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Justin Melo