Many of the top NFL free agents have already found new homes. But last year’s interceptions leader, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, remains unsigned. The former Philadelphia Eagles star safety was expected to have plenty of interest in his first chance to be a free agent since becoming a fourth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in 2019, yet here we are.
There’s no question the Cocoa, Florida native can help a large number of teams next season. Every defense could use another playmaker in the secondary, especially one as versatile as Gardner-Johnson, who also spends a lot of time covering slot receivers in addition to his free safety duties.
For whatever reason, Gardner-Johnson hasn’t been able to find a new home after a breakout season with the Eagles, leading to a career-high 67 tackles and six interceptions. Perhaps it’s a product of where the safety market is right now, or maybe it’s simply a matter of the numbers not making sense financially.
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Either way, after playing a key role with the Eagles’ defense, the 25-year-old safety will eventually land a starting role for the 2023 season, it’s just a question of where. Let’s evaluate the three best fits for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Jacksonville Jaguars add playmaker to secondary
After adding Travon Walker to a core that already featured Josh Allen in the front seven, the Jaguars would be wise to add gamechangers to their secondary too. We could very well see this approach take shape in the 2023 NFL Draft, but why not get a head start in free agency?
- CJ Gardner-Johnson stats last season: 67 tackles (5 TFLs), 1 sack, 6 INT, 8 PD
Gardner-Johnson is young enough that he fits the Jaguars’ win-now window and his ability to play multiple roles within a defense should only help a roster that’s still trying to find long-term pieces in the secondary.
A short-term contract shouldn’t impact their ability to pay Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne in the future and it could help turn around a defense that allowed the fifth-most passing yards per game a season ago.
Detroit Lions sign C.J. Gardner-Johnson
The Lions have begun adding pieces to their cornerback group, signing Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, but bringing in another capable safety would be ideal ahead of the draft. Gardner-Johnson is certainly the best remaining player available at the position and could provide an instant spark to the NFL’s third-worst passing defense from 2022.
While the advanced analytics from Pro Football Focus don’t shed a positive light on Gardner-Johnson’s season with the Eagles, grading him 49th among 88 safeties, it’s hard to deny the impact he had on Philly’s Super Bowl run.
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At the right price, Gardner-Johnson can help the Lions too. Especially considering how ineffective their pass defense was a season ago, allowing the third-most passing yards in football. If teams take the same pass-heavy approach with C.J. Gardner-Johnson roaming the field, he just might make them pay with a few costly turnovers.
Miami Dolphins add another piece to the puzzle
It’s clear the Miami Dolphins are willing to spare no expense in the pursuit of a Super Bowl trophy. Gardner-Johnson just might be the next natural fit. A former Florida Gator, Gardner-Johnson would likely leap at the opportunity to play back in his home state, especially if it meant another chance to add a Lombardi Trophy to his career accomplishments.
If Gardner-Johnson’s free agency market continues to be slow-developing, reaching common ground, even at a lesser rate on a one-year, incentive-laden contract with the Dolphins could be the best solution for each party involved. Of course, simply going back to the Eagles may be another option for Gardner-Johnson, returning to the City of Brotherly Love