Steelers Called on to Target ‘Smack-Talking’ Safety - Sport News

Steelers Called on to Target ‘Smack-Talking’ Safety

The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be considering keeping cornerback Patrick Peterson for next season. But Pro Football Network’s Dallas Robinson argued that the Steelers should target a different versatile veteran defensive back — C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

C.J. Gardner-Johnson

On February 22, Robinson predicted the Steelers to sign Gardner-Johnson in NFL free agency.

“Steelers slot corner Chandon Sullivan is on track for free agency, while Pittsburgh might try to find a better second safety to play opposite Minkah Fitzpatrick this offseason,” wrote Robinson.

“Chauncey Gardner-Johnson could compete for both roles and shouldn’t cost much after missing most of the 2023 campaign with a pectoral injury. Another one-year contract in the $6-8 million range could make sense.”

Gardner-Johnson only played in three regular season games because of his pectoral injury. He had 17 combined tackles, 3 pass defenses and 1 interception.

Then in three playoff games, Gardner-Johnson had 12 combined tackles, 1 pass defense and 1 interception.

SB Nation’s Pride of Detroit’s Erik Schlitt referred to the 26-year-old as a “positional versatile talent with Pro Bowl upside.” But Gardner-Johnson brings more than what he simply produces on the stat sheet.

“For all Gardner-Johnson’s smack-talking and boisterous confidence, he shares a team-first mentality that the Lions look for in a leader,” wrote Schlitt.

What C.J. Gardner-Johnson Could Bring to the Steelers

The possibility of the Steelers signing Gardner-Johnson is an interesting idea for a few reasons.

As Robinson noted, he could compete for the starting safety spot opposite Minkah Fitzpatrick. It’s probably not the worst idea for the Steelers to have extra safety depth either since injuries and a suspension left the position decimated in December.

Because of Gardner-Johnson’s versatility, he could also replace Chandon Sullivan, who is an unrestricted free agent. Gardner-Johnson is a potential upgrade for the Steelers at that position too.

With the potential to sign Gardner-Johnson on a 1-year, $6-8 million contract, it’s also worth wondering if the Steelers could consider him as replacement for Peterson on the roster.

Gardner-Johnson doesn’t play outside cornerback as Peterson does, but turning 34 in July, Peterson probably shouldn’t be a full-time starting outside cornerback anymore. While Peterson offers versatility too, he isn’t as experienced in multiple positions as Gardner-Johnson.

Peterson is also more expensive. He will have a $9.775 million cap hit in 2024, and the Steelers could save $6.85 million by cutting him.

However, health is a concern with Gardner-Johnson. He has had stints on injured reserve each of the past three seasons. In 2023, he missed 14 contests because of his pectoral injury.

Meanwhile, Peterson led the Steelers with 1,096 defensive snaps in 2023.

Despite missing five games in 2022, Gardner-Johnson was tied for the NFL lead with 6 interceptions. He also had a career-high 67 combined tackles with 8 pass defenses.

He has 20 tackles for loss, 39 pass defenses and 12 interceptions in 58 career NFL games.

Gardner-Johnson’s ‘Smack-Talking’ Past

Another thing to keep in mind with Gardner-Johnson is his smack-talking. While he has infectious energy, The Athletic’s Colton Pouncy implied that his behavior may have also turn teams off last offseason.

“The market last year was cooler than most (including Gardner-Johnson) would have expected, and it’s certainly possible Gardner-Johnson’s unapologetic antics turned some teams off,” wrote Pouncy.

Gardner-Johnson appears to have beefs with several players around the league, including San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel. That came to a point during the NFC championship matchup and following the game after the Detroit Lions blew a 17-point lead.

During the playoffs, Gardner-Johnson also exchanged jabs through the media with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Gardner-Johnson often backs up his trash talk. For the Steelers, it’s a question of whether they want to add that type of presence to their defense.

The 26-year-old is a great leader and provides incredible energy. But he can also be a distraction.

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