The Eagles chose not to re-sign defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who just inked a dirt-cheap one-year deal with the Lions. What’s up with that?
Philadelphia Eagles defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson led the league with six interceptions in 2022. He’s a 25-year-old versatile defender entering his prime and boasts decent playoff experience, and he appeared to fit well in Philly. So….why didn’t the team bring him back?
That’s an $8 million question. On Sunday, Gardner-Johnson and the Detroit Lions agreed to a one-year, $8 million contract with $6.8 million guaranteed, essentially a bargain-bin prove-it deal for the former New Orleans Saints player.
Gardner-Johnson first came to Philly as part of one of Howie Roseman’s sweet trades with the Saints last year: the Eagles gave up a pair of late-round picks, and in return, they got their starting safety for 2022.
Having mostly played as a nickel corner in NOLA, Gardner-Johnson made the switch seamlessly and ingratiated himself onto Philly’s roster from Day 1. He entered this offseason as one of the Eagles’ most promising free agents, and unfortunately he, too, became part of the mass exodus that saw the likes of Javon Hargrave, Miles Sanders, Isaac Seumalo, and other leave for new teams.
Compared to those players’ new contracts, Gardner-Johnson signed to the Lions on an absolutely dirt-cheap deal, leaving many fans to wonder why he didn’t just re-sign with the Eagles.
Poor timing and a mis-evaluation of the free agent market ultimately led to Gardner-Johnson’s exit:
Former Eagles DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson bet on himself in free agency and lost
According to Eagles reporter Jeff McLane, Philly did offer Gardner-Johnson a multi-year deal that he turned down, as the defensive back probably thought he could get more on the market.
By the time Gardner-Johnson realized he wasn’t going to get a better offer, the Eagles had already moved on and re-signed key defensive pieces in James Bradberry and Darius Slay. With his options dwindling week after week, Gardner-Johnson went with the best deal he could find which was a one-year, $8 million contract with a talented yet unproven team.
As for the league viewing Gardner-Johnson as a “risk,” McLane doesn’t elaborate on exactly why he’s considered a liability.
During his time on the Saints, Gardner-Johnson got himself in unnecessary fights, even sparring with his own teammate Michael Thomas during practice, and he developed an undesirable reputation as an intense and combative player.
He’ll now bring that same intensity to Detroit in a reunion with Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and head coach Dan Campbell, an ideal schematic landing spot for Gardner-Johnson even if it fell short of his contract desires.