His phone was blowing up. Texts. Calls. Panicky friends and family members. Everybody.
“What happened in Philly?”
The news spread quickly Wednesday that the Eagles had released Fred Johnson, and his support system immediately kicked into gear.
The only person who wasn’t upset was Johnson himself, who knew all along that his release was just a procedural move that allowed the Eagles to tear up his futures contract and replace it with a two-year deal that included a bonus.
He just wasn’t allowed to say anything.
“People seen I was cut, like I couldn't say anything,” he said with a laugh. “But it was just like, ‘Hey, just chill. Like, y'all don't know everything.’
“You know, my family back home, y'all in Florida right now, just be in Florida. Don't worry about what I’ve got going on up there.”
By Thursday afternoon, Johnson was officially re-signed, but he really never left the team, and the Eagles were never in danger of losing him, since he’s a vested veteran and wasn’t subject to the waiver process.
The reality is that the massive 6-foot-7, 330-pound Johnson has had an eye-opening training camp and after starting the summer as a long shot, he’s earned a spot on the Eagles’ 53-man roster as a backup offensive tackle.
And for the first time in his life he has some security.
“I feel like this is the best opportunity I’ve had in my five years of playing, honestly, where there was no politics, there was no anything,” he said. “Everybody gets a shot, everybody gets a chance and when I got my chance I ran with it.
“And it’s been the most locked in camp I think I’ve had because there was no outside noise. There was no, ‘How they gonna try to do this today and do this tomorrow? Do I actually have a chance, like for real?’ I came in this camp and I said I don't care about anything else. And I went out there and showed what I could do and they liked it.”
Johnson has been bouncing around the NFL for a few years. He’s played in 23 games with eight starts for the Bengals between 2019 and 2021. He’s been released four times by three different teams and at 26 years old and going into his fifth season he finally feels wanted.
“It's a great feeling, man,” he said. “Like, honestly, it's been like everywhere else I've been. I've been waived, I've been picked back up, I've been picked back up and waived. I’ve been waived halfway through the season and there’s only so much you can (take) before you start thinking, like, ‘Damn, am I really worth it?’
“When I came in here, I saw the opportunity and I took it. Just to feel wanted, just to feel that this can be a place for me, it just motivated me that much more to go hard and try to make this a home.”
Tearing up his contract and giving him a two-year deal is a sure sign that the Eagles want Johnson here.
“Just means they wanted to keep me around,” he said. “I mean, honestly, like I never even had a talk with extensions before in five years. You start wondering, ‘Am I just a journeyman? Am I just this and that?’ So when they said the extra year and you know put some (guaranteed money) behind it, I was just like, ‘What else are we waiting for?’"
The Eagles actually picked up Johnson last November, about a week after the Bucs released him. So he was able to start learning from o-line coach Jeff Stoutland last fall and then was along for the ride during the Super Bowl run.
“I came in when they were still undefeated,” Johnson said. “I was questioning, ‘Like why did they even bring me in?’”
But this is a typical Howie Roseman move. Find a guy on the scrap heap, send him to study at Stoutland U and find yourself a player.
“I was just like, ‘I'm not going to quit,’” Johnson said. “I can't quit on myself. Last year when I got on the practice squad, I could have quit. Could have been like, ‘Oh, bleep this, I don't want to do this no more. This is not for me. I'm going to go a different route.'
“When I was right there on the cusp of what I could be. And I'm still not even at my peak yet.”