Prior to the start of the 2022 Philadelphia Eagles season, Howie Roseman made a splash. As the team was trimming the roster to get to the 53-man requirement, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was acquired from the New Orleans Saints. It took only the Eagles’ 2023 fifth-round pick and a 2024 sixth-round pick for a promising young talent at the safety position.
Gardner-Johnson, 24 at the time, would have a promising season in the Eagles’ secondary. He recorded a sack, six interceptions, and 61 tackles, a step up from his recent production at safety for Philadelphia. He played 11 games before suffering a lacerated kidney injury and returned for the season finale against the New York Giants, and playoffs.
Gardner-Johnson appeared to enjoy his time as an Eagle, and it appeared that the team wanted him back. Wanting him back on a long-term deal was the general consensus of Philadelphia fans and media as well.
The Market Wasn’t There
As the 2022 NFL season ended and free agency began, speculation began to arise. The Eagles began their restructures and attempted to make room for Gardner-Johnson. Defensive end Brandon Graham and cornerback James Bradberry even took cheaper deals than they would have gotten on the open market.
Safety movement began, and the market appeared to be over-valued by players and agents. Coming into the 2022 season, the average safety made about eight million per season. Higher-paid safeties like the Chargers’ Derwin James and the Steelers’ Minkah Fitzpatrick were making about 19 million per season. The Falcons signed former Bengals safety Jessie Bates III for 16 million per year. Former Eagles safety Marcus Epps received only six million per year from the Raiders, and Jordan Poyer received the same when he re-signed with the Bills.
Ultimately, Gardner-Johnson received six and a half million on a one-year deal with the Lions, lower than expected. It is possible that Gardner-Johnson’s agency didn’t do right by him, and it was mentioned that the Eagles made an initial multi-year offer that was turned down.
Six million per year was the average contract offered to signed safeties this season, indicating that teams don’t value the position as much. Teams like Philadelphia and Dallas focused on keeping a priority on two strong cornerbacks, a more valuable and high-dollar position.
He Might Be A Risk
Gardner-Johnson will play on his third team in three seasons in 2023. He’s known for wearing his emotions on his sleeve through tweets, then unfortunately deleting them. I rarely side with billionaire owners and believe athletes should make as much money as possible, but I also believe in understanding the business. During his time with the Saints in 2020, Gardner-Johnson got into two incidents with teammate Michael Thomas, and Chicago Bears wide receiver Javon Wims.
Although it takes two players to tango, it’s possible that the Eagles saw exactly what the Saints did, a talented player but a potential headcase. It’s likely why the Saints were willing to let him go to Philadelphia for minimal compensation, and why the Eagles were willing to let him walk to Detroit. At the time New Orleans and Philadelphia let Gardner-Johnson go, both teams had stability at the corner position.
It’s logical for a defensive coordinator to think that plugging in even an average safety will yield solid results with a strong cornerback duo and a solid pass rush. One has to wonder that if things don’t work out in Detroit, he’ll tweet poorly about their organization and fans too. The telltale sign will be him moving from team to team, and never signing long-term deals.
Ultimately, Gardner-Johnson is a 25-year-old player who appears to lack maturity.
For his sake, I hope that comes with time, in addition to an agency that knows how to better negotiate player contracts. He’s human and I don’t blame him for emotion. He probably wanted to stay in Philadelphia, but it seems he has a lot to learn about the business.
“Switching Up” Is A Myth
Philadelphia fans have been accused of “switching up” on Gardner-Johnson as if their loyalty is supposed to continue in his career post-Philadelphia. These accusations have come from Gardner-Johnson himself, opposing fans, and opposing media. It’s hypocritical given tweets by Gardner-Johnson that could be seen as backhanded toward fans and Eagles’ players.
Loyalty is earned, and once a player leaves, that’s it. Fans are loyal to teams, and it takes more than one strong season in Philadelphia to earn that love, more or less. The 2017 Eagles’ are the exception and not the rule, and Gardner-Johnson may have earned some of that love if the defense showed up in Super Bowl 57. Our teams lose players every season. Are we expected to quit liking our teams because they can’t keep a player that we liked?
We understand the business better than most sports cities and understand that life goes on. We know that the players who want to be here will be here, and we shower the ones who commit to Philadelphia with love. What do we owe a player who doesn’t want to be here? Nothing.
Furthermore, Howie Roseman has earned the benefit of the doubt for his decisions. Philadelphia fans have done nothing wrong. If anything, Gardner-Johnson switched up on Philadelphia. He and his agency turned us down. That’s not our problem, and the Eagles tried. That’s all we can ask for.
You’re good, CJGJ, but you’re not Brian Dawkins. This is a business, and we’ll survive without you. We root for the Philadelphia Eagles, and if your helmet does not have wings, you’re the enemy. Deal with it.
As for Philadelphia fans, maybe if we ignore him, he’ll stop tweeting.