Eagles Free Agency: Determining who stays and who goes

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)

Sick of all the NFL free agency rumors? Well, strap in and buckle up because we are just getting started. The legal tampering period begins on March 13 as agents are allowed to leak terms before their clients officially put pen to paper on March 15. All eyes will be on the Philadelphia Eagles and their 18 unrestricted free agents, many of whom aren’t expected to be wearing a midnight green jersey in 2023.

Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson headlines a list of high-profile names to watch, especially on the heels of a report (via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler) that the team is making a “strong effort” to lock up the league leader in interceptions to a long-term contract. If not, there is a feeling the Eagles could turn their attention to bringing back All-Pro cornerback James Bradberry.

It’ll be an interesting 72 hours, filled with equal parts angst and euphoria. Let’s sort through the organized chaos and take a stab at predicting which dominoes fall:

C.J. Gardner-Johnson

It seemed like the hybrid defensive back had already booked his flight out of town after posting what appeared to be a farewell message. That narrative has shifted heading into free agency. The Eagles are reportedly making a last-ditch effort to sign the 25-year-old playmaker, thanks to an uncertain safety market. The 2023 NFL draft class is loaded at the position and price tags are dropping fast. Suddenly, Gardner-Johnson seems to fit into Howie Roseman’s budget.

Verdict: He returns to the nest on an incentive-laden deal worth $60 million over 5 years. The Eagles can’t afford to let him escape, not without a backup plan at safety. Remember, Marcus Epps is a free agent which leaves Reed Blankenship and K’Von Wallace next up on the depth chart.

James Bradberry

The All-Pro cornerback had one foot out the door the minute he declared “I won’t play for cheap.” The 29-year-old exceeded all expectations in 2022, arguably turning in a better season than Darius Slay. He’s going to have plenty of interest, with suitors lining up. And he’s going to get paid, hopefully not by the Giants or Cowboys.

Verdict: He cashes in elsewhere after the Eagles tone down the Darius Slay trade rumors. Look for the Arizona Cardinals, under new head coach Jonathan Gannon, to make a strong push for Bradberry in free agency.

Miles Sanders

The Eagles’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014 has never gotten the respect he felt he deserved. He recently took to Twitter to say: “Chasing anonymous love.” That kind of says it all. Sanders played out his rookie contract on good faith, setting new career highs and qualifying for his first Pro Bowl. However, the franchise has never really valued the running back spot. It’s a thankless job, one many feel could be handed off to a youngster (see: Bijan Robinson) with a better 40 time.

Verdict: Sanders is as good as gone. He’s a bit too one-dimensional for a Philly team that requires a feature back to stand tough in pass-protection and gobble up receptions out of the backfield. That’s not his forte. Someone will nab him at $8 million per year, perhaps the Miami Dolphins. Kenny Gainwell will compete for the starting job at Eagles’ training camp.

Javon Hargrave

The Pro Bowl defensive tackle seemed to be in the other team’s backfield on every single snap. His 11 sacks and 16 quarterback hits only tell half the story: Hargrave has a 92.2 pass-rush grade and 18.8% pass-rush win rate ranks third since 2020 (via Pro Football Focus). The market for interior disruptors is at Rockefeller levels … with $20 million per year looking like a starting point.

Verdict: The Eagles reluctantly move on from Hargrave and his 37.5 career sacks. They just can’t compete with the insane offer sheets coming in, like Daron Payne’s 4-year, $90 million deal. The team can roll with Jordan Davis, Milton Williams, Marlon Tuipulotu, with Fletcher Cox in play to come back. Don’t be surprised to see them take a defensive tackle in the first round.

Fletcher Cox

Yes, he’s been linked to the Cleveland Browns. Yes, he’ll have other offers in free agency. But, after watching his long-time friend and teammate Brandon Graham return on a hometown discount, the opportunity to run it back on a Super Bowl team proves too tempting. Plus, Cox had previously clashed with defensive coordianator Jonathan Gannon and now he’s gone.

Verdict: Cox chooses to stick with the franchise that drafted him in 2012. They’ll work out something similar to the $6 million deal Graham got.

T.J. Edwards

The Eagles’ leading tackler (159) from 2022 is the most intriguing name on this list. Edwards has given the team a presence in the middle not felt since the halcyon days of Jeremiah Trotter. He’s young. He’s athletic. He’s improved every single year. They crave his stability and leadership at a position of need after years of frustration there.

Verdict: Howie Roseman has navigated choppier waters before, and he’ll calm the salary cap storm to lock up Edwards. The 26-year-old is too good and too vital to the scheme. New defensive coordinator Sean Desai values smart linebacker play. The Eagles free up money – they already restructured Jake Elliott, perhaps Lane Johnson and Darius Slay are next – to come close to meeting his projected $48 million deal.

Jason Kelce

The future Hall of Famer drags his retirement decision out a few more weeks but ultimately walks off into the sunset as one of the greatest, and most beloved, players in franchise history. More importantly, Kelce’s unselfishness keeps $14 million in Roseman’s pocket.

Verdict: Kelce retires and Cam Jurgens slides right in as the starting center in 2023.

Isaac Seumalo

The Eagles have faced a similar predicament before, like when they let Halapoulivaati Vaitai walk in free agency to the tune of $45 million over 5 years in 2020. Seumalo, a right guard by trade, won’t duplicate Big V’s haul but he’ll be compensated appropriately for his talents.

Verdict: The Eagles regretfully move on from the versatile 29-year-old who once brought Jason Kelce to tears. Jack Driscoll will have the inside track at replacing him, but it’ll be an open competition at training camp. They inked Julian Good-Jones to a futures contract, plus the team remains bullish on Josh Sills depending on what happens with his court case for rape and kidnapping charges.

Other free agents: T Andre Dillard, S Marcus Epps, DT Linval Joseph, WR Zach Pascal, P Brett Kern, DE Robert Quinn, DT Ndamukong Suh, RB Boston Scott, LB Kyzir White, TE Tyree Jackson (exclusive rights).

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire