Another Howie Roseman blockbuster! Eagles bring back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

Another Howie Roseman blockbuster! Eagles bring back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

He didn’t leave on the best terms, but Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is coming back on outstanding terms, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

As in a three-year contract worth up to $33 million.

The Eagles addressed their glaring need at safety Tuesday night by bringing back Gardner-Johnson, who spent the 2022 season with the Eagles, then left for Detroit as a free agent a year ago when he and the Eagles couldn’t agree on a new contract.

No hard feelings.

Gardner-Johnson, originally a 4th-round pick of the Saints in 2019, earned just $2.54 million with the Eagles in 2022 and $6.5 million with the Lions last year. His $11 million average is 12th-highest among NFL safeties.

Now, for the first time in his career, he has a big-money long-term contract, and the Eagles have answered one of their biggest offseason questions.

Gardner-Johnson, still only 26, had six interceptions in just 12 games in 2022, the first Eagle with six INTs in a season since Brandon Boykin in 2013 and the first safety with six since Greg Jackson in 1994. Despite missing five games with a lacerated kidney, he shared the NFL lead in interceptions.

During Gardner-Johnson's five-week layoff, undrafted rookie Reid Blankenship started and played well and was one of last year’s safety starters. But after a good start, he didn’t have a strong second half.

Terrell Edmunds began the season as the other safety but was traded in October to the Titans for Kevin Byard, who started the last 10 games. The Eagles released Byard earlier this month, and he agreed to a two-year, $15 million contract with the Bears on Monday.

Rookie 3rd-round pick Sydney Brown started showing promise late in the season but tore his ACL in the season finale against the Giants and isn’t expected back until several weeks into the 2024 season.

It all added up to a massive hole at safety.

But Howie Roseman struck again, adding a third big-ticket free agent in 30 hours following the Saquon Barkley and Bryce Huff additions.

Johnson was limited to just two games last year with the Lions after suffering a torn pectoral during a game against the Seahawks at Ford Field. He returned 3 ½ months later and played in the regular-season finale and all three playoff games, picking up 12 tackles and an interception of Baker Mayfield as he reached the NFC Championship Game for a second straight season.

Johnson has had 12 interceptions in 58 career games as well as four sacks, 39 pass deflections, 20 tackles for loss and 14 quarterback hits.

He can play safety or slot corner, which gives new Eagles defensive coordinator Vic Fangio some options as he rebuilds what was statistically one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, allowing 35 touchdowns and 253 passing yards per game and picking off just nine passes.

Things did get ugly last March after talks between the Eagles and CJGJ’s agency fell apart. The Eagles reportedly offered $24 million over three years, but Gardner-Johnson turned it down, hoping to get a bigger deal as a free agent.

The Eagles then took the money they hoped to use on CJGJ to give James Bradberry a three-year, $38 million deal that obviously they now regret. Gardner-Johnson wound up signing a one-year deal that ultimately paid him about $6 ½ million (although it was reported as $8 million at the time).

Criticism of Gardner-Johnson was so vociferous, his agency took the unusual step of defending their action on social media.

In a since-deleted tweet, the Universal Sports Management then-Twitter account tweeted out, “Perception Vs. Reality … 1 Year Real vs. 3 Year Fake … which sounds better to you?”

Gardner-Johnson then made it clear he enjoyed his time with the Eagles and didn’t have any hard feelings.

“I don't have no bad blood,” he said. “I mean, people overreact to a tweet in free agency, but it was never disrespectful to the organization. The organization treated me like family. It's just, you got to do what's best for your family. That's all it is."

Gardner-Johnson brings the Eagles several things that were missing last year. Physicality in the secondary. Swagger in the locker room. Playmaking all over the field.

Roseman let him go once. He wasn’t going to do it again.