The Detroit Lions made yet another secondary splash on Sunday night by agreeing to terms with defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Some believed Gardner-Johnson to be the best remaining free agent left on the market, and considering the Lions had already made two significant signings at the cornerback position, this addition caught some off guard.
One group of people that really seemed to be surprised were the folks over in Philadelphia. Though the Eagles had already turned their focus to re-signing guys like Darius Slay and James Bradberry, many were surprised by the relatively small contract Gardner-Johnson ended up signing—a reported one-year deal worth $8 million with $6.5 million guaranteed. Gardner-Johnson is just 25 years old and coming off a season where he led the NFL in interceptions. What the heck happened?
Let’s get some insight from Eagles insiders and capture their reaction on Sunday night and Monday morning following the Lions’ big move.
To begin with, here’s the lowdown on why the Lions may have been able to get Gardner-Johnson so cheap. Apparently, the Eagles originally offered him a multi-year deal early in free agency, but Gardner-Johnson believed he could find more on the open market.
Skinny on why C.J. Gardner-Johnson is no longer in Philly:— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) March 20, 2023
- #Eagles made multi-year offer early in FA.
- He was looking for more.
- They moved on, signed Bradberry, extended Slay.
- He/agent overvalued not realizing market/league viewed him as risk.
- Settled for prove-it deal.
Note: It’s worth noting that Gardner-Johnson quote tweeted this with the word “cap,” essentially calling into question the validity of this report. However, Gardner-Johnson has since deleted his tweet.
It’s unclear what kind of deal the Eagles gave Gardner-Johnson, but interestingly enough, his agency tweeted out something that may give us insight there.
Perception Vs Reality….1 Year Real vs 3 Year Fake….which sounds better to you ♟️— UniversalSportsMgmt (@UniSportsMgmt) March 20, 2023
1. One year deal = $8m
2. 3 yr deal = $24m max with 17m+ in yr 3
Which one you taking? drop
Did Gardner-Johnson receive an insulting offer from the Eagles that was backloaded with money he’d likely never see, or is his agency trying to save face after betting on his client and losing? We’ll likely never know for sure.
Let’s move on to the player himself and how analysts and fans reacted to the news of the Lions adding him and the Eagles losing him.
That’s a very nice signing for the Lions, and a tough hit for the Eagles https://t.co/RHZdeeHQKU— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) March 20, 2023
Wow. The safety market has been bleak this offseason, but this is even less than tempered expectations may have suggested.— EJ Smith (@EJSmith94) March 20, 2023
Gardner-Johnson signs a prove-it deal, essentially. #Eagles https://t.co/U6uZTZwlOD
The Lions are not $%^&ing around with their secondary. The additions of Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley were doubles and tripes, and getting C.J. Gardner-Johnson to pair with Kerby Joseph is a damn home run. Still think they need to take the best CB available at 6. pic.twitter.com/uKhBwcgl0w— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) March 20, 2023
Lions Operating like a high level Franchise for the 1st time in many of our lifetimes. What a steal on Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Reunites with MCDC & Aaron Glenn. Got a lot better on Defense in Free Agency. Terrific Off-season.— Chad Forbes (@NFLDraftBites) March 20, 2023
Many have spoken about Gardner-Johnson’s fiery demeanor. He’s been known to get into spats on the field and become a bit of an agitator. He’s gotten punched on two different occasions, one by an opponent on the field, and another by teammate Michael Thomas during practice. That has led some to point out that maybe vague “risks” caused his value to drop, as pointed out in the Jeff McLane tweet above. However, it’s worth pointing out that Gardner-Johnson’s now former teammate—Eagles receiver AJ Brown—went out of his way to praise the defensive back’s character.
Great teammate. Glad he took care of his family most importantly. It’s a Dangerous game that we play . Can’t be upset w a man for doing what he feel like is best for him and his family. Detroit got a great one!— AJ Brown (@1kalwaysopen_) March 20, 2023
So did Darius Slay:
As you have probably surmised in your football fandom career, Eagles fans are an emotional bunch. Some were upset with losing Gardner-Johnson. Some were okay with it. Almost everyone on Eagles' Twitter was mad, and plenty quickly turned on the guy. Here’s the gamut of emotions from Eagles fans:
Pretty stunned by the C.J. Gardner-Johnson contract. He's clearly hoping he can have another big year and finds the safety market in better shape than what he found this offseason.— The Birds Blitz (@TheBirdsBlitz) March 20, 2023
Not sure what CJGJ was expecting but i'd like to think there was 6.5M GTD laying around somwhere in NovaCare.— John Barchard (@JohnBarchard) March 20, 2023
If the Eagles were out earlier than we thought, and the Eagles name was just being used for leveraged with Lions for that gross contract...YIKES
Sheesh, waking up to this CJ Gardner Johnson news #Eagles— Philly Talk Podcast (@Philly_Mike25) March 20, 2023
Thought going to bed early would help get the week started right!! ♂️ ♂️
My take on CJ Gardner-Johnson…— Philly Nation (@Philly__Nation) March 20, 2023
He’s a good player that I believed would be ascending considering he’s only 25. This will be his third team in 5 years, and two of the teams that let him go usually don’t let young players with this talent go. Wish him the best, fun player.
CJ Gardner-Johnson was high maintenance from the day he stepped into the NovaCare facility, then wildly overvalued himself.— Marcus Hayes (@inkstainedretch) March 20, 2023
The #Eagles dodged a bullet.
Today would be a great day to re-sign CJ Gardner-Johnson.— Jake || PhillyBirdsCountry (@BirdsCountry) March 19, 2023
There’s many takeaways from this:— Jake || PhillyBirdsCountry (@BirdsCountry) March 20, 2023
1. CJ was a well loved guy in the locker room & always brought energy. He didn’t have a training camp & had never played S before but managed to start every game he was healthy at S.
2. Prioritizing Bradberry + Slay was the right move. pic.twitter.com/YkeKsyVUcE
Michael Thomas punched CJ Gardner Johnson in practice.— hurts4mvp every season (@EaglesStrictly) March 20, 2023
Javon Wims punched him during a game.
The Eagles might’ve dodged a bullet not signing him long term.
[Editor’s note: So much coping.]