The Philadelphia Eagles could have an ideal replacement for one of their key starters.
As the Eagles enter free agency, they’ll have a number of defensive starters hitting free agency. In fact, eight of their defensive starters from last season will enter free agency. One of those starters — safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson — might not return to Philadelphia for the 2023 season. As proposed by CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr, the Eagles could replace Gardner-Johnson by signing San Francisco 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson.
“Enter Gipson, who played for new defensive coordinator Sean Desai with the Chicago Bears in 2021. Gipson was excellent in coverage last season, finishing with five interceptions and eight passes defended at the age of 32,” said Kerr. “Opposing quarterbacks had just a 19.3 passer rating targeting Gipson.”
Eagles Lacking Experienced Safeties Under Contract
The Eagles have a limited number of safeties under contract for next season, with Reed Blankenship the only safety under contract who saw significant playing time from last season. Kerr notes that starting safety Marcus Epps — who compiled 94 tackles and appeared in 99% of defensive snaps last season — will also be a free agent, which furthers the reasoning for why the Eagles should sign Gipson, considering his familiarity with new defensive coordinator Sean Desai.
“Marcus Epps is also a free agent, so perhaps the Eagles get creative and sign Gipson to pair with Blankenship,” says Kerr. “Gipson’s familiarity with Desai may be enticing enough to bring him to Philadelphia.”
The 32-year-old Gipson has served as a starting safety since entering the league in 2012, starting 149 of 157 career appearances. He was previously named a Pro Bowler back in 2014 as a member of the Cleveland Browns.
The veteran safety started all 17 games with the Niners last season, posting 61 tackles in addition to five interceptions, leading the NFL’s top defense with five interceptions.
Garnder-Johnson took to social media to thank Philadelphia after the Eagles decided not to franchise tag him.
Eagles Likely Can’t Afford C.J. Gardner-Johnson
According to Spotrac, the 25-year-old’s market value is due to be $13.3 million per year across five seasons for a total of slightly under $67 million. That would not only make Gardner-Johnson the 10th-highest paid safety in the league, it probably makes him as good as gone for the cash-strapped Eagles. Entering the offseason, Philadelphia has slightly under $5 million in available cap space, ranking 21st in the league.
By comparison, Gipson has earned more than $8 million in a single season just once and he earned a shade over $1 million last season. In other words, he’d be a vastly cheaper option than Gardner-Johnson.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter explains that with Philadelphia preparing to sign quarterback Jalen Hurts to a $50-million-per-year deal, the Eagles will likely have to allow key defensive free agents — such as Gardner-Johnson, Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox — to walk.
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“They’ve planned, like, teams have their salary cap situations literally drawn out for years to come,” said Schefter. “They’ve known about this year 3-4 years ago. What they didn’t know was that Jalen was gonna develop into the star that he is, that they’re gonna have to pay him roughly $50 million a year, so you adjust and tweak your system to that. But they knew this was coming and they’re gonna lose defensive talent. That’s just the way it is. It’s the cost of doing business. They’d like to have most of those players back. They can’t. They just can’t afford it.”
If the Eagles fail in re-signing Gardner-Johnson, they should consider targeting Gipson, a familiar staple of Desai’s defense.