Philadelphia Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson seemed to bid a fond farewell to the City of Brotherly Love late Tuesday night in a not-so-subtle Twitter message. Optimists were trying to take his goodbye note as a mirage meant to spur long-term contract negotiations, that is until several teammates, including A.J. Brown and Darius Slay, wished him good luck in the comments section (via Chris Infante). Yes, it seems safe to say that Gardner-Johnson is leaving for greener pastures.
A tall order for the Eagles…
Meanwhile, the Eagles are faced with the tough task of replacing one of the biggest playmakers at the safety position. Looking at the depth chart as the roster is currently constructed sounds off multiple alarm bells. The new starters at safety? Reed Blankenship and K’Von Wallace. They could move nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox over, or slide Josiah Scott in there.
But robbing Peter to pay Paul would cause a domino effect down the secondary. Remember, Marcus Epps is also a free agent. Philadelphia is going to have to sign someone to plug the safety hole even if it’s only on a one-year deal.
Moving on to this year’s free agency class. Here are the best options on the open market for the Eagles:
It seems like the former Utah standout has been in the league forever, but he’s only 30 years old. Rowe, a second-round pick of the Eagles in 2015, has been a productive player everywhere he’s been, including an integral part of two Super Bowl championships in New England. Howie Roseman always loved Rowe, going so far as to admit he made a mistake trading him away. Now he has a chance to correct a wrong with a right. Rowe brings a ton of veteran experience, plus 381 career tackles, 5 interceptions, and 41 pass breakups.
Another familiar name is a heart-warming option to return home. McLeod bolted the Eagles’ nest for Indianapolis last offseason, but it wasn’t necessarily by choice. The Colts handed him more money than the Eagles were willing to pay. There didn’t appear to be any hard feelings. He seems like a perfect candidate to mentor Reed Blankenship, K’Von Wallace, and a potential rookie safety if the team goes that route in the draft. One problem, McLeod will turn 33 years old on June 23.
The Steelers may look to bring Minkah Fitzpatrick’s reliable partner back in 2023, but so far there are no indications a deal is imminent. He has long been one of the most underrated players at the safety position, holding his own when covering tight ends and playing up in the box against the run. Edmunds can do it all: 410 career tackles (105 in 2019, second-highest on Pittsburgh), along with 5 interceptions, 26 pass breakups. More importantly, it sounds like $10 million over two years might be the sweet spot.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Love made headlines after the NFC Divisional Round for poking fun at Nick Sirianni’s mean mug on the Eagles’ sideline. He thought it was unnecessary and disrespectful, adding that “he’s on for a free ride right now.” Whatever, only words. Love can play. Pro Football Focus called him a “Swiss Army Knife” due to his ability to line up everywhere: 271 snaps down in the box, 154 in the slot, and 494 at free safety. The Notre Dame product recorded 124 tackles and 2 picks for the Giants in 2022.
The 31-year-old safety has been going back and forth with the 49ers’ front office. The main sticking point is that he wants to play safety; they like him better at the nickel cornerback spot. Maybe a change of scenery is what everyone needs. Ward, a first-round pick in 2014, would be the most expensive option in this group bordering on $8 million per year. However, he is a certified playmaker who grabbed 3 interceptions in 2022 and 2 picks in 2021.
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