This veteran DB would give the Jaguars a Swiss Knife in the secondary

Detroit Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (2) tackles L.A. Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua (17) during
Detroit Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (2) tackles L.A. Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua (17) during / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Jacksonville Jaguars are re-signing their own players ahead of free agency but they'll soon start looking for upgrades in the open market. One defensive back who could give the Jags a Swiss Knife in the secondary is C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who's seen as a potential fit in Ryan Nielsen's defense.

Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus put together a list of potential landing spots for the top pending free agents and chose Jacksonville as a destination for Gardner-Johnson. Spielberger argues that the safety would be an ideal replacement for Rayshawn Jenkins, who was released on a cap-saving move.

"New Jaguars defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen coached Gardner-Johnson with the New Orleans Saints for several years, and the Jaguars just released safety Rayshawn Jenkins. The team has question marks at the slot cornerback position, as well. The Jaguars need an attacking, edgy player over the middle of this defense."

On the other hand, Spielberg thinks that Gardner-Johnson could also return to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he spent the 2022 season. As a matter of fact, Philly made him an offer but he felt like he was being lowballed, so he chose to sign an $8 million deal with the Detroit Lions last year. Unfortunately, a torn pectoral muscle limited him to just three games in the regular season, effectively hurting his stock ahead of free agency.

When healthy, though, Gardner-Johnson is a dynamic defender who can line up at nickel or safety. In his lone season with the Eagles, he tallied six interceptions and eight passes defensed. But even during his three-year stint with the New Orleans Saints, he was highly productive, registering five picks and 28 pass deflections. The Jags could most definitely use a player with his talents.

Why the Jacksonville Jaguars would/wouldn't sign CJ Gardner-Johnson

One thing that could incentivize the Jaguars to make a run for C.J. Gardner-Johnson is that the safety market is devalued. Granted, his ability to play multiple spots in the defensive backfield should increase his value and make him stand out from his peers. But even then, teams could easily lean toward a player who may not be as versatile but will be cheaper.

On the other hand, the Jaguars already have a player with Gardner-Johnson's skill set in place: Sophomore Antonio Johnson. The former Texas A&M Aggie dealt with a hamstring injury to start the 2023 season but once he was able to contribute, he thrived, registering two interceptions, one forced fumble and three passes defensed. He progressively got more playing time in the slot and eventually displaced Tre Herndon.

Jacksonville could keep Johnson in the slot and sign Gardner-Johnson but they could also move the former to safety, his natural position. On top of that, they have more pressing needs than safety, and they may prioritize adding a boundary cornerback or a center in free agency. Similarly, wide receiver will become a need if Calvin Ridley hits the open market.

Add the fact that the Jags just re-signed Daniel Thomas, and they could ultimately pass the safety position in free agency altogether.

Make no mistake, C.J. Gardner-Johnson would be a great addition to the Jacksonville Jaguars. He's the kind of defender that would give defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen lots of scheme flexibility, so the team's brass should most definitely keep an eye on him. Then again, it wouldn't be shocking if they chose to prioritize other positions in free agency.

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