The brash defensive back agreed to terms with Detroit on Sunday night in the form of a one-year deal that could reach as high as $8 million, a far cry from the franchise tag of $14.46M many speculated the Eagles could use as a placeholder to make sure that did not lose Gardner-Johnson, 25, in free agency.
The outside valuations of Gardner-Johnson were wildly off, however, and the market, not just the Eagles but the other 31 NFL teams, spoke loudly.
Philadelphia did want Gardner-Johnson back and offered a multi-year deal at the start of free agency, according to an NFL source, one that Gardner-Johnson deemed insufficient with the belief larger deals were out there to be had.
The safety market was bleak as a whole, however, after Jesse Bates, the ex-Bengals star got a $16M AAV deal with Atlanta. The Eagles moved on and were able to strike a deal with James Bradberry and then convince Darius Slay to play ball when it came to cap relief by allowing him to see the grass wasn’t greener on the other side.
Eagles GM Howie Roseman came into the process believing he could get two of his three high-profile DBs back with the first thought being Slay, who wasn’t a free agent but needed to lower his impending $26.1M cap number so the Eagles could maneuver elsewhere and CJGJ, something that would have likely been the path of Gardner-Johnson jumped at the initial offer.
When that was shut down, the Eagles turned back toward Bradberry, who proved open-minded to take a little less to return to the organization that helped him turn into a second-team All-Pro. Once Bradberry re-signed, the thought was Slay was going to get released and Philadelphia would continue to work with CJGJ.
Slay announced his departure and did a 180, essentially shutting the door on a Gardner-Johnson return, who took to Twitter to announce “the disrespect was real.”
The Eagles traded a fifth- and a sixth-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for Gardner-Johnson on Aug. 30 of last year with the intent of moving him from slot cornerback to safety.
The decision worked and Gardner-Johnson tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with six despite missing five games with a lacerated kidney. In many ways, though, the splash plays overwhelmed consistency issues from play to play and CJGJ was graded as a mediocre safety overall by Pro Football Focus, No. 49 of 88.
The Eagles must now replace both of their starting safeties next season. Marcus Epps also left in free agency for a two-year, $12M deal with Las Vegas.
Second-year player Reed Blankenship will be penciled in for one of those spots and the team still has K’Von Wallace and future signings Andre Chachere, Marquise Blair, and Tristin McCollum.
EAGLES LOSE ZACH PASCAL
The attrition continues Monday when veteran receiver Zach Pascal agreed to a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals where he will reunite with former Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon.
A Nick Sirianni favorite, Pascal was the WR4 in 2022-23 and a big part of the team’s running game as perhaps the best blocker wideout in the NFL.
The reigning NFC champions have suffered significant attrition in free agency as expected losing five starters on defense: Gardner-Johnson, Epps, DT Javon Hargrave, and LBs T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White, as well as two starters on offense in RB Miles Sanders and RG Isaac Seumalo.
The key reserves lost are QB Gardner Minshew, OT Andre Dillard, and Pascal.