Saying goodbye to Chauncey Gardner-Johnson isn’t easy, but neceseary for the Eagles

Chauncey Gardner-johnson eagles
GLENDALE, AZ – FEBRUARY 12: Philadelphia Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (23) flexes during Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles on February 12, 2023 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

After a month or so of deliberation, it looks as though the Eagles have made a decision on the future of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. The 25-year-old safety has posted what appears to be a farewell video to the City of Brotherly Love, sparking emotional reactions from fans who were hoping to see the talented defensive back return for another year. As tough as this goodbye may be, it was likely always on the cards.

Why a tricky goodbye to Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was always written in the stars

When we roll back the clocks to this time last year, Eagles GM Howie Roseman quickly sensed an opportunity. With one of the easiest schedules in football ahead, the savvy General Manager made a decision to go all-in on the 2022 campaign, taking advantage of younger players who were being exiled by their current teams due to salary-cap issues.

James Bradberry, A.J Brown, and CJGJ were all players who would’ve been deemed unattainable in a different setting. Had the chips fell differently, Roseman would’ve arguably been more conservative in his approach to bring in elite-level players to make an immediate Super Bowl run. Players of a similar caliber are dangled in front of him on a yearly basis but it’s very rare we see Roseman snap the hand off of an opposing GM to bring in a player who is going to cost them an extortionate amount of money in just a few months time.

The Eagles acquired Chauncey Gardner-Johnson for pennies on the dollar in one of the most one-sided trades in recent memory. Was he worth it? Absolutely. The former Saint led the league in interceptions and when he returned from an injury, seamlessly changed position and was the perfect nickel bandaid, proving to be just as impactful as he was at Safety.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson’s next chapter

CJGJ has earned his payday after a strong start to his career with the Saints and an even stronger stint in Philly. So much so that it’s gotten to the point that it was almost inconceivable that the Eagles wouldn’t use the franchise tag on him. For context, that tag is $14M. The Eagles currently have $5M in cap space and have to also facilitate a contract extension for Jalen Hurts along with making key decisions on 18 other free agents and a rookie class.

If the Eagles truly envisioned Chauncey Gardner-Johnson staying beyond one year, they would’ve signed him to an extension the second he touched foot in Philly. Why wouldn’t they? It’s not like there was any doubts over his level of play and they did that exact thing for A.J Brown upon his arrival.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was the dream signing in this situation. The Eagles paid virtually nothing for one year of service from one of the best safeties in the NFL. Is he going to be worth it at $14M when other positions and players end up being ignored? Is the value the same at $14M+ as it is at a few pennies and late draft picks? The obvious answer is no.

Is Howie wise to let Chauncey Gardner-Johnson walk?

The Eagles love what they have in Marcus Epps, whose’ talented run defense in 2021 played a crucial role in Howie’s decision not to pursue Tyrann Mathieu. Sure, he makes mistakes, but it’s low-risk, high-reward for a player whose isolated strengths tick a big box.

Chauncey Gardner-johnson
PHILADELPHIA, PA – NOVEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (23) is carted off the field after an injury during the first half of the National Football League game between the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles on November 27, 2022 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

Then there’s Reed Blankenship – an underdog UDFA who filled the boots of CJGJ while he was injured and immediately flashed progressive upside.

I wanted Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to remain in Philadelphia just as much as the next fan. His passion was infectious and his aggressive style of play gave Eagles fans a sense of attachment not felt at the position since Malcolm Jenkins. But he leaves the City of Brotherly Love as a hero. A man who outperformed expectations, soared over his projected value, and pushed the Eagles to a Super Bowl berth. That was what Howie foresaw and it’s what Gardner-Johnson provided.

But as sweet as it would be to retain Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, his job here is done. He gave the Eagles a chance at winning a Super Bowl. His play has far-exceeded what the Eagles can realistically pay him, and that was likely always going to be the case. It’s tough to say goodbye to such an impactful player, but what the Eagles cannot afford to do is backload a significant amount of money knowing that guys like Jalen Hurts, DeVonta Smith, Landon Dickerson, and other young cornerstones will all soon be looking to secure long-term deals of their own.

I mentioned Malcolm Jenkins earlier. He too left Philadelphia feeling undervalued. He wanted to stay in Philly, he also earned the payday he later received. The Eagles were just fine.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson did exactly what was asked of him, but Howie Roseman also has to do exactly what is expected of him: Sustaining the growth of this young team without overpaying for production. Value is the name of the game when trying to retain as many stars as possible. It will be hard to watch CJGJ thrive elsewhere, but so long as the Eagles can continue their own ascension, it’s the right decision.

 Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire