The Philadelphia Eagles made C.J. Gardner-Johnson a priority heading into free agency -- and it was easy to see their perspective. Just 25 years old and coming off a season in which he tied for the league lead in interceptions (six), Gardner-Johnson appeared to be on the rise as one of the best safeties in the NFL.
What happened over the past week that led to Gardner-Johnson signing a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions? Gardner-Johnson was one of the top defensive free agents heading into the offseason, yet it took him a week to sign with a team.
The Gardner-Johnson free agent saga is certainly one to review. Gardner-Johnson got a new contract, yet the path to get there was certainly intriguing.
Monday -- start of legal tampering period
The Eagles made Gardner-Johnson a priority in free agency, as a source told CBS Sports the team was making a push to sign the safety. Philadelphia made a multi-year offer to Gardner-Johnson, but he decided to test the market.
Tuesday -- Eagles pivot to other members of secondary
With Gardner-Johnson testing the market, the Eagles decided to focus on keeping their cornerback duo of James Bradberry and Darius Slay. Bradberry was first, as the team talked to the All-Pro cornerback throughout the day.
Bradberry ended up signing a three-year deal with the Eagles, taking less money to stay in Philadelphia. The first piece of the secondary was in place.
Wednesday -- Darius Slay going to be released, then he wasn't
The Eagles and Slay were at an impasse with contract negotiations, which led to reports coming out that the team was going to release Slay at the start of the new league year. The Eagles never made an official announcement on Slay, which was a sign Slay and the Eagles were trying to work out a restructured contract to stay in Philadelphia.
In the late hours of the night, Slay and the Eagles agreed to a contract extension. With the uncertainly of Slay throughout Wednesday, the Eagles still had an opportunity to bring back Gardner-Johnson. He was still gauging his market, which wasn't favorable for safeties.
Wednesday -- Eagles bring back Fletcher Cox
The Eagles made another roster move Wednesday, re-signing Cox to a one-year deal worth $10 million. Philadelphia already lost Javon Hargrave, T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White, and Marcus Epps in free agency -- yet were able to retain two of their own in Cox and Brandon Graham.
With Gardner-Johnson still testing his market (and not signed), the Eagles used their offseason to retain three other key members of their defense.
Thursday -- 'Disrespect is real'
Whether Gardner-Johnson was talking about the Eagles or the offers he was getting in free agency, that prompted the safety to tweet this:
CJ Gardner-Johnson just tweeted “The disrespect is real!” pic.twitter.com/hZ9hScTogu— Chase Senior (@Chase_Senior) March 16, 2023
Here were the safety contracts given out over the four days, none of which involved Gardner-Johnson. This showcased the market for the position -- or lack thereof.
The free agent safeties -- contracts by average annual salary— Jeff Kerr (@JeffKerrCBS) March 17, 2023
Jessie Bates -- $16.005 million
Vonn Bell -- $7.5 million
Donovan Wilson -- $7 million
Juan Thornhill -- $7 million
Jimmie Ward -- $6.5 million
Julian Love -- $6 million
It's a tough market to gauge. #Eagles
Saturday -- Gardner-Johnson tweets support for his agency
A deal appeared to be close as Gardner-Johnson (who stayed off Twitter for a few days) tweeted a smiling emoji for Universal Sports Management.
March 19, 2023
Whether the Eagles could match the deal or not was up in the air, but Gardner-Johnson did put back up his Eagles pictures on his Instagram.
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Sunday -- Gardner-Johnson, Lions agree to deal
Gardner-Johnson agreed to a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions worth up to $8 million. The Eagles did have their multi-year offer from earlier in the week, but the first year wasn't up to $8 million. Gardner-Johnson was reunited with Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who was his defensive backs coach with the New Orleans Saints.
Gardner-Johnson thanked the Eagles and confirmed he signed with the Lions.
Sunday -- Gardner-Johnson's agency revealed the Eagles offer
In what is surprising for an agency, Universal Sports Management actually revealed to the public on social media what the Eagles' latest offer was and the deal that Gardner-Johnson signed. Essentially, it defended the contract its client signed.
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
The Eagles' initial offer Monday (start of the legal tampering period) was higher than what that offer Universal Sports Management tweeted Sunday night. Gardner-Johnson was searching for a salary similar to the average annual value Bates received ($16.005 million). Philadelphia's offer wasn't close to that amount.
At the end of the day, the Eagles and Gardner-Johnson moved on. There was a multi-year offer from Philadelphia left on the table.
One former teammate is on his side and spoke out to defend the safety.
A.J. Brown said, "Great teammate. Glad he took care of his family most importantly. It's a dangerous game that we play. Can't be upset [with] a man for doing what he feel like is best for him and his family. Detroit got a great one!