While the Eagles continued to operate as if their safety depth was adequate, forgoing the position in the draft, swapping out Rodney McLeod for Jaquiski Tartt in free agency, and turning their nose at a trade for Jessie Bates III, the cracks started to show as the summer went along.
First came the decision to cross-train nickel corner Josiah Scott at safety. Though this decision was far from a full-fledged press of the panic button, as having dynamic reserves who can fill multiple positions is never a bad thing, it did lead to questions about depth.
Then came a string of injuries that dented the duration of time Jonathan Gannon and company had to test their depth in camp. Tartt missed time due to a personal matter, Scott was out with a hamstring, and Andre Chachere suffered a groin injury that cost him important reps during the waning days of August.
In CJGJ, the Eagles’ secondary immediately felt fixed; they filled their biggest hole and added a certified playmaker at a position that’s been desperate for one since “Jenkins,” not “McPhearson” was on the back of the number 27 jersey. Sure, he was largely used as a slot cornerback in Louisiana, logging just nine snaps deployed deep in 2021 versus 543 in either the slot or box according to Pro Football Focus, but after showing significant interest in Tyrann Mathieu earlier in the offseason, that appears to be an asset to Gannon, not a burden.
There’s no doubt about it; on the field, Gardner-Johnson is an asset, an upgrade, and the sort of player who should cost way more than two Day 3 picks to acquire, but that isn’t all the Florida product brings to the table. No, Gardner-Johnson provides something the Eagles’ defense has been missing for quite some time now: that underdog mentality.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson brings a little extra dog to the Philadelphia Eagles.
When he takes the field, Gardner-Johnson, much like The Street Profits, wants that smoke. He’s a smack talker, a pot stirrer, and the kind of player who will deliver a karate kick combo to a division rival’s logo when he makes a plan.
Now to some teams, that sort of extra attitude goes against their established ethos. Teams like the New England Patriots, for example, like to do things a certain way, and if a player doesn’t buy in, they likely won’t be around for long.
Fortunately, Nick Sirianni is a bit of a self-described trash talker himself, so he sees Gardner-Johnson fitting right in with the Eagles, as he addressed during his post-trade press conference via a transcription from Chris Franklin of NJ.com.
“I know he gets the rap for that, but that’s part of his competitiveness. I’d lie if I said I don’t trash talk a little bit. I did it when I played, and I do it in practice to raise the level of competition. There are guys that trash talk all the time in here shooting baskets and out in the field. I think he’s one of these guys to that when you have them on your team, you might not like playing against them, but you’re really glad he’s on your team.”
Now granted, does this competitive edge occasionally get Gardner-Johnson in trouble? You bet; in 2021, “Ceedy Duce” allowed 63.9 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed for 400 yards and a touchdown, but for a defensive back to be successful, they need to have a short memory and not get too gun-shy after a mistake or two.
Fortunately, Gardner-Johnson has seemingly never been gun-shy on the football field in his life, so he should be just fine in that regard.
Will Gardner-Johnson magically turn the Eagles’ defense into an all-time great unit? No, as much of an upgrade as he may be over the options originally on the table, no safety can single-handedly turn a bad defense into a good one or a good defense into an elite one due to the specific requirements of the position. But can Gardner-Johnson fire up the Eagles, fight on every snap, and bring some of that swag that really only Darius Slay was bringing to the table? Why yes, if bringing back that underdog mentality from 2017 is the goal, Gardner-Johnson is the perfect person for the job.
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire