Eagles Starter Rejects Deal, Signs With NFC Rival: Report

The Philadelphia Eagles are losing another key starter.

Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson is signing with the Detroit Lions, as reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Sunday, March 19.

“Former Eagles’ safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson reached agreement tonight with the Detroit Lions, per source,” said Schefter. “The top remaining defensive free agent is off the board. Lions are giving him a one-year deal worth up to $8 million, per source.”

C.J. Gardner-Johnson Rebuffs Eagles’ Initial Offer

As ESPN’s Matt Bowen reports, the Eagles actually made an offer to Gardner-Johnson at the beginning of free agency. However, he didn’t accept the offer, believing his market value was much higher.

“A source told ESPN’s Tim McManus that the Philadelphia Eagles made a multiyear offer to keep Gardner-Johnson at the beginning of free agency which he didn’t accept, feeling his market value was much higher,” said Bowen. “The Eagles then shifted their attention to re-signing cornerbacks James Bradberry and Darius Slay.”

While the exact details of the Eagles’ offer to Gardner-Johnson isn’t known, it’s a huge miscalculation on his part. According to Spotrac, Gardner-Johnson’s market value entering the offseason was $13.3 million per year for a total of over $66 million across five seasons. That $13.3 million annual average salary would have made Gardner-Johnson the 10th-highest paid safety in the league.

Eagles Facing Major Changes in Starting Lineup

The 25-year-old was the last major free agent the Eagles were attempting to re-sign. However, now that Gardner-Johnson has signed with the Lions, that means Philadelphia will be forced to replace defensive lineman Javon Hargrave, linebackers T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White and free safety Marcus Epps from last season’s defensive unit.

Furthermore, they’ve also lost running back Miles Sanders and Isaac Seumalo from last season’s offensive starting lineup. In addition to the lost starters, key reserves such as quarterback Gardner Minshew, receiver Zach Pascal and tackle Andre Dillard are also departing, as Eagles insider John McMullen points out.

“Eagles are at seven starters lost — five on defense (Hargrave, Edwards, White, CJGJ, and Epps), two on offense (Sanders and Seumalo), and three key reserves: Minshew, Dillard, and Pascal,” says McMullen. “That’s 31.8% of the starters and 18.9% of the roster.”

Gardner-Johnson was initially acquired by the Eagles prior to the start of the 2022 season from the New Orleans Saints along with the Saints’ 2025 seventh-round draft pick in exchange for a 2023 fifth-round pick and the latter of the Eagles’ two sixth-round picks in 2024.

Not only did Gardner-Johnson post a breakthrough campaign in 2022, he co-led the NFL with six interceptions in just 12 starts. Furthermore, he posted a career-high 67 tackles.

According to Pro Football Focus, Gardner-Johnson posted a 63.9 defensive grade last season, which was his highest since the 2019 season.

As Bowen explains, Gardner-Johnson made the shift from cornerback to safety upon his arrival to the Eagles, making his play even more impressive.

“Gardner-Johnson was asked to make a position switch from cornerback to safety upon his arrival in Philadelphia and effectively did so,” says Bowen. “He finished the regular season tied for the most interceptions in the NFL (6) despite missing five games with a lacerated kidney. He became the only Eagle since the 1970 merger to record interceptions in five consecutive games.”

With Gardner-Johnson and Epps out of the fold, Reed Blankenship and Tristin McCollum project as the next safeties up.



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