C.J. Gardner-Johnson: The big one that got away from the Eagles

Posted on March 21, 2023

The Eagles’ biggest prize in free agency, the player who would have been the centerpiece of their defensive signees, walked out the door.

Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson put a damper on the Eagles’ successful beginning of free agency by signing with the Lions. 

The Eagles lost their other starting safety when Marcus Epps signed with the Raiders. Safeties on the roster are Reed Blankenship, K’Von Wallace, Andre Chachere and Anthony Harris.

General manager Howie Roseman’s work has begun with that position. On Monday, the Eagles came to an agreement with former Saints and Bucs safety Justin Evans.

Gardner-Johnson was introduced to the Detroit media on Monday after signing a one-year deal worth $8 million. The Eagles reportedly offered a multi-year deal that he turned down.

His agency, Universal Sports Management, tweeted out what it said were details of the two contract offers. The agency claimed the Eagles offered a three-year deal for $24 million max, with $17 million in Year Three.

The USM tweet:

  • Perception Vs Reality….1 Year Real vs 3 Year Fake….which sounds better to you  
  • 1. One year deal = $8m
  • 2. 3 yr deal = $24m max with 17m+ in yr 3

Jim Trotter, a columnist for NFL.com, reported in a tweet: What’s really surprising about the Eagles offering Gardner-Johnson a backloaded, three-year, max $24M deal that included $17M+ in Year 3, but that they also declined to match the one-year deal the Lions offered, per source.

  • “I’m not disappointed,” Gardner-Johnson said about not coming to an agreement with the Eagles. “I mean, we went to the Super Bowl. Obviously, we didn’t win it.
  • “But the experience, I had, I don’t have no bad blood. I mean, people overreacted with a tweet in free agency but it was never disrespectful towards the organization.
  • “They treated me like family. It’s just you gotta do what’s best for your family. That’s all it is.”

Gardner-Johnson, 25, came to the Eagles in a trade with the Saints right before the 2022 regular season. He immediately stabilized the safety position. He tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with six.

Media reports indicate that Gardner-Johnson overvalued his market price.

  • “It’s a business, man,” CJGJ said. “Just keep it pushing. Just keep playing football, keep your head down and God will bless you eventually.
  • “That’s how I take it. I don’t trip about it. Take it day by day. Felt like the draft day all over again, truthfully.”

He talked about the Lions’ secondary and how they compared with the Eagles’ secondary.

  • “To be honest with you, [the Lions defensive backs are] a little bit better,” Gardner-Johnson said.

He went onto say the Lions are more talented than the Eagles.

  • “But that’s just on me,” Gardner-Johnson said. “Everybody can look at the outside looking in, but this team is talented. This team, we can win a division. Everybody should feel that way.
  • “But when I look at the team, coming from where I came from, all the teams I’ve played on, won multiple divisions, been to playoff games, been to the Super Bowl, this team has what it takes to win a division. You know what I’m saying, get there, win a division, get to the playoffs.
  • “The past is the past. I’m here now. I’m with a brand new team, new city, ready to win some games.”


Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave left the Eagles to join the 49ers in free agency. He talked about the Eagles’ 31-7 win in the NFC title game.

  • “We kind of knew it was going to be different when all you can do is run the ball, when both quarterbacks go out, and you know exactly what you’re trying to do,” Hargrave said, via 49ersWebzone.com, about San Francisco quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson leaving the game because of injuries.
  • “Of course, it made it a lot easier for us … Trust me, we’ve seen the film on Brock escaping. We knew it was going to be a challenge trying to get to him, so it would have been, definitely, a different game if he had stayed up.”


Rookie quarterback Carson Strong, who the Eagles signed in April and cut in August, has joined the USFL’s Michigan Panthers, according to the USFL News Hub.

The Eagles paid Strong an eye-opening $320,000 in guaranteed money. He arrived in camp with the reputation of having a great throwing arm. He only threw four passes in preseason.

Strong was a record-breaking college passer at Nevada and was expected to be a high-round pick. But after suffering a knee injury he went undrafted.

Strong landed with the Cardinals in December as a back-up after Kyler Murray was injured.

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Chuck Bausman

Chuck Bausman is an Eagles writer for Iggles.com. Chuck formerly was the Executive Sports Editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Executive Sports Editor of the Courier-Post in South Jersey. He learned how to cuss by watching Philly sports.

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