The Philadelphia Eagles could be looking at their potential new starter.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Eagles are signing former New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Justin Evans. The move comes just hours after the Eagles lost safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson to the Detroit Lions.
“The Eagles are signing former Bucs and Saints free agent safety Justin Evans, per me and Mike Garafolo,” says Rapoport. “Evans helps fill a void at safety.”
Marcus Evans Missed 3 Entire Seasons Before Saints Stint
The 27-year-old Evans spent last season with the Saints, starting four of his 15 appearances with New Orleans. Evans not only appeared in 39% of the defensive snaps, he notched 29 tackles.
Evans’ comeback last season with the Saints is more impressive when one considers that he hadn’t appeared in a regular season game in four years. After a promising start with the Buccaneers during his first two seasons in the league — Evans started 24 games at free safety — he missed the 2019 and 2020 seasons due to an Achilles injury. After he was released prior to the end of the 2020 season, Evans sat out the entire 2021 season before signing with the Saints last offseason.
According to Pro Football Focus, Evans posted a respectable 61.0 defensive grade and 63.9 grade in coverage last season. By comparison, K’Von Wallace — one of the Eagles’ two returning safeties from last season — posted a similar defensive grade of 61.4 and 60.7 grade in coverage in 178 defensive snaps.
In other words, Evans has a legit opportunity at emerging as a starter in Philadelphia’s defensive backfield following the loss of their top two safeties, Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps.
As Josh Tolentino of The Philadelphia Inquirer points out, the Eagles are not done adding safety help.
“The Eagles are still expected to pursue additional depth at safety after losing a pair of starters in Marcus Epps and Gardner-Johnson,” says Tolentino. “Other safeties currently on the roster include Reed Blankenship, Andre Chachere, and K’Von Wallace.”
In three seasons of play, Evans has career totals of 154 tackles and four interceptions in 39 games and 25 starts. Outside of missing the entirety of the 2019 and 2020 seasons due to injury, Evans also missed two games due to an ankle injury in 2017 and six games with a toe injury during the 2018 season.
If Evans wants to emerge as a starting safety in Philadelphia, he’ll have to beat out Wallace and Reed Blankenship along with staying healthy.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson Rejects Eagles’ Initial Offer
While the Eagles are moving on with a new safety, they’ll lose their best one from last season.
As mentioned before, Gardner-Johnson — who co-led the NFL with six interceptions last season — is signing with the Lions. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Lions are signing him to a one-year, $8 million deal.
While it’s tough enough to lose Gardner-Johnson, one interesting note is that the 25-year-old actually miscalculated the market and rejected Philadelphia’s initial offer at the start of free agency.
Via Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia:
“I’m told the Eagles did indeed make an offer at the start of free agency, but it wasn’t what C.J. wanted, and he turned it down, and by the time he realized he had misjudged the market, the Eagles had moved onto other priorities,” says Frank. “So he signed for less with Detroit.”
After a breakout season, Gardner-Johnson didn’t exactly cash in. According to Spotrac, Gardner-Johnson’s projected market value was $13.3 million per season.
Not only do the Eagles lose out on one of their best defensive players from last season, Gardner-Johnson will lose out on a big payday for the time being.