In breaking news just ahead of the 4 PM deadline to reduce the roster to 53 players, the Eagles have agreed to terms to acquire safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and a seventh-round draft pick in 2025 from New Orleans, sending to the Saints a fifth-round draft pick in 2024 and the later of the Eagles' two sixth-round draft picks in 2024.
"We were looking for opportunities to get better," Executive Vice President/General manager Howie Roseman said after the team's roster was cut to 53 on Tuesday afternoon. "When we looked at New Orleans and the depth that they had on their roster, we thought maybe it would be a fit, and the conversations kind of came together here in the last 48 hours. Excited to add him.
"He's a heck of a player. He loves football. (Jokingly) Obviously, he went to the right college (both Roseman and Gardner-Johnson went to Florida). We'll just get him in here as quickly as possible, and I know our coaches will do a great job of getting him up to speed."
A 2019 fourth-round draft pick from Florida, Gardner-Johnson has started 31 of the 43 games he's played, including 11 starts in 12 games last season. Listed as a defensive back with the Saints because he's versatile enough to cover as a slot cornerback and physical enough to play the safety position, Gardner-Johnson is expected to add to the Eagles' safety room. Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon likes to employ his players in a variety of spots throughout the defense, emphasizing their ability to adapt, adjust, and play fast and physical. At a recent press conference, in fact, Gannon said that the nickel and safety positions are "mirrored" in some ways.
Gardner-Johnson certainly fits such criteria. He is a starting-level defensive back and a high-level one at that. According to Pro Football Focus, Gardner-Johnson has made more plays on the ball in the slot than any player in the league since the 2018 season (24).
"We have a good player in him, there's no doubt," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "That's our job as coaches, to have a plan, and we do. I think at this point right now, it doesn't benefit us to talk about how we're playing him, where we're playing him, because we're in game plan week right now.
"The fact that he didn't have any snaps here with us is an unknown to Detroit, so we'll keep it that way. But when we get good players in here, it's our job to figure out ways to use them. We've obviously talked about that at depth, and we look forward to having him in here and letting him contribute."
The Eagles announced the initial 53-man roster after Tuesday's 4 PM final cutdown.
The Saints employed Gardner-Johnson in many ways last season – as a nickel cornerback and at safety as well – enabling him to set career-highs in quarterback sacks (two, which emphasized his blitzing skills) and interceptions (three, highlighting his coverage talents). Gardner-Johnson is known to be a sure tackler who loves to mix it up and who brings a high degree of energy and personality to the field. He became a fan favorite in New Orleans for having a playing style that identifies with what Saints fans are – fighters and survivors who have come through the challenges that region has endured in recent years.
"You might not like playing against him, but you're really glad he's on your team," Sirianni said.
Getting Gardner-Johnson up to speed in the defense is the next challenge, but the Eagles have two weeks to get him ready to learn the game plan – as they've done in the past, the Eagles will bring Gardner-Johnson along in gulp-sized bites of the playbook on a week-to-week basis, making it easy to comprehend the scheme.
The expectation is that Gardner-Johnson, who became expendable given New Orleans' depth in the defensive backfield along with the breakdown in talks with the Saints regarding a new contract, is going to fit right in. His energy will be a perfect match for Gannon and an Eagles defense that feeds off positive energy.
"We spent a lot of time with him in the pre-draft process. I think from our perspective, we did not feel like he was a fourth-round pick. He kind of fell a little bit in the draft. He loves football. He has a passion for the game, and he's not afraid to show it," Roseman said.
"I think that what Coach does with our team is he lets them show their personalities, and he lets them be them. I don't think that anything that we found on him is malicious. He just loves to play. I think our fans like that. I know our team does. That may frustrate offensive players and receivers at times, but it's all because he has a passion for this game.
We like that. That makes practice fun. We'll see if he can compete with Slay."
The Eagles were able to make the deal in part because of a trade Roseman made last week with Tennessee, when he sent defensive back Ugo Amadi to the Titans and the teams exchanged late-round draft picks. And the Eagles acquired Amadi a week earlier when they sent former wide receiver/tight end J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to Seattle.
That's why every trade and every move matters. Every roster spot is valuable and the smart teams take advantage of every asset they have. This time, Roseman was able to engineer multiple trades that ultimately allowed him to acquire Gardner-Johnson, a highly talented player who has a chance to make a major impact for the Eagles in this 2022 season.