Eagles Cut Defensive Starter, Trade Saints for ‘Versatile Chess Piece’

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

Getty The Eagles and Saints swapped late-round draft picks in a trade for safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

It happened so fast, in two rapid-fire tweets, and now the Philadelphia Eagles have a new starting safety. Anthony Harris is out. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is in.

Tuesday is roster cutdown day around the National Football League. The Eagles started things off by releasing Harris (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter), then it was reported that the team had made a trade with the New Orleans Saints for Gardner-Johnson (via NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport). The Saints and Eagles swapped late-round picks in the trade, another savvy move in an offseason full of them for Howie Roseman.

Gardner-Johnson is coming off a foot injury that limited him to 12 games in 2021. He also missed some time in 2020 while battling COVID-19. When healthy, the 24-year-old defensive back is considered a reliable starter and young player on the rise. He was a fourth-round pick (105th overall) in the 2019 draft, mentoring under Malcolm Jenkins in New Orleans for two seasons. Gardner-Johnson is in the final year of his rookie deal and looking for a lucrative extension.

According to Pro Football Focus, Gardner-Johnson is at his best when used as a “versatile chess piece, changing between playing nickel corner, box safety or even lining up at the line of scrimmage.” The 5-foot-11, 211-pounder registered a 62.2 defensive grade for the Saints in 2021. The Eagles have the luxury to take a wait-and-see approach before inking him to a new contract. This is a win-win for Philadelphia.

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Vested Veteran: Harris Expected Back

The Eagles are expected to bring Harris back since he’s a vested veteran, a guy with at least four years of accrued service time. Harris, who is entering his eighth season, immediately becomes a free agent but he isn’t subject to waivers.

The thought is the Eagles will tweak their roster — likely by placing a player or two on injured reserve — and resign Harris. He would return as a key backup behind Gardner-Johnson and fellow starter Marcus Epps.

Remember, Harris has been one of the defensive leaders on the field and in the locker room. He broke down the team huddle in the final preseason game, plus he played in defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s system in Minnesota. Harris is someone the coaching staff trusts.

“He’s been a leader since I met him as an undrafted rookie in Minnesota, so he has leadership traits,” Gannon said of Harris on August 24. “That whole room from a football character standpoint and doing things right on a daily basis, that’s what a leader is to me, and they all do that.”

Eagles Cutting Devon Allen: Report

The Eagles are releasing receiver Devon Allen, per Heavy’s Matt Lombardo. The two-time Olympian had firmly been on the roster bubble, but his stock was trending up after two impressive performances to close out the preseason. Allen flashed his insane speed on a 55-yard touchdown grab against Cleveland, then showed his value on special teams as a gunner versus Miami.

Philadelphia will likely try and bring Allen back on the practice squad, although his chances of clearing waivers won’t be great. There is enough tape out on him to warrant enthusiastic bites from other teams. You can’t teach that kind of speed.

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