Eagles column

Eagles and CJGJ deserve credit for letting bygones be bygones

The Eagles and C.J. Gardner-Johnson deserve a lot of credit for not letting last year's drama stop them from a reunion.

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It didn’t end well.

Around this time last year, the Eagles and C.J. Gardner-Johnson tried to find some common ground on a contract extension to keep the energetic, ascending young safety in Philly and it didn’t work out.

Not only did it not work … but it got a little ugly.

The Eagles ended up pivoting after talks broke down and gave a contract extension to James Bradberry instead, which, in hindsight, was obviously a major mistake. Gardner-Johnson ended up in Detroit on a one-year deal. And then his agents publicly tweeted some negotiating details of the two contracts and Gardner-Johnson publicly criticized Eagles fans in a series of deleted tweets.

Like we said, it got a little ugly.

Which is why both sides deserve kudos for righting a wrong and letting bygones be bygones this week. Gardner-Johnson is coming back to Philadelphia in free agency on a three-year deal a year after all that drama a year ago.

So give credit to the Eagles for acknowledging a mistake and correcting it. 

Give Gardner-Johnson credit for getting over any hurt feelings and returning to a team where he really was a good fit.

And also give Gardner-Johnson credit for making amends with a fanbase that was eager to welcome him back to the nest on Tuesday night. 

A year ago, Gardner-Johnson was attacking Eagles fans on social media. This year, it’s all love.

It’s also fair to wonder if a young Howie Roseman would have been willing to bring back a player like Gardner-Johnson. Roseman was an ascending general manager in the early 2010s but it wasn’t until after his year-long ouster that he started to better understand the importance of relationship building as a GM. This is one he was able to mend.

The Gardner-Johnson deal has been initially reported as a three-year contract that’s worth a maximum of $33 million and we’ll see in the coming days how much heavy lifting the “max” portion of that report is doing. But this is obviously a move that makes sense. 

The Eagles desperately need to rebuild their secondary and Gardner-Johnson is a 26-year-old ascending and versatile defensive back, who didn’t even become a full-time safety until the Eagles traded for him just before the start of the 2022 season.

Remember, during his first three seasons in the NFL as a New Orleans Saint, Gardner-Johnson was primarily a nickel cornerback. He was learning how to play safety on the fly in Philly and still managed to intercept six passes in 12 games in 2022. While it’s not like all those interceptions were incredible plays, there’s something to be said for making the play when it comes to you and CJGJ did that in 2022. Heck, Gardner-Johnson had 6 INTs in 12 games in 2022 and the entire team without him had 9 in 17 games in 2023.

The Eagles will welcome back that type of playmaking ability on the back end of their defense. There’s a real chance Gardner-Johnson’s best days at the safety position are ahead of him and there’s still a chance the Eagles can utilize his versatility as well.

The reason Gardner-Johnson is back with the Eagles is because of his play on the field.

But it’s going to be fun to see his personality back on the sideline and in the locker room too. Gardner-Johnson is a unique guy with a mercurial persona as this profile from early in the 2022 season explained. 

Gardner-Johnson is brash. He can be loud. He talks s—. He’s cocky. He brings juice to practices and games. In a lot of ways, Gardner-Johnson seems like a perfect personality to mesh with Eagles fans.

And you don’t want to stifle those characteristics; you want to harness them.

There’s no guarantee the deal with Gardner-Johnson works out. You can never really tell in free agency and his injury history is a legitimate concern.

But there’s also a chance he might come back and thrive with the Eagles. And after everything that went down a year ago, the fact that he’s even back at all is pretty impressive.

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