Roster turnover is imminent for the two best teams in the NFC between the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles. And that includes the safety position for both teams likely to see some significant changes.
However, NFL analyst Peter Panacy of FanSided wrote down this proposal on Tuesday, February 14 that he believes would catapult the 49ers into next season’s Super Bowl favorites: The Niners pursue C.J. Gardner-Johnson of the NFC champs, who’s an unrestricted free agent heading to the end of his four-year, $3.3 million contract.
“Not only would Gardner-Johnson fill the would-be void at nickel, especially if Ward departs, but he’d also project to be much cheaper in NFL free agency, too, as nickel backs never command the kind of top dollar that boundary corners receive,” Panacy wrote. “With a projected value of $5.6 million, the 49ers shouldn’t have too much of an issue landing him if they try hard enough.”
That also means the 49ers snatching the top ball-hawk on the reigning NFC champs, who swooped up six interceptions for a defense that collected 39 total takeaways.
Analyst Adds Another Reason Why Gardner-Johnson Should be Pursued by 49ers
Panacy isn’t the only one who mentioned the versatile nickelback/safety as one the Niners should consider.
Enzo Flojo of Clutch Points on Thursday, February 16 wrote down his list of five “sneaky good” free agents the 49ers must sign and had the NFC champ high on his list. But it’s not just the likely departure of Ward as his reason. Flojo points out that there could be another spot open in the 49ers’ safety room.
“The 49ers may face significant changes in their secondary in the upcoming offseason. They resorted to creative solutions last year by moving Jimmie Ward to nickel cornerback and Tashaun Gipson’s outstanding play. However, both players are now free agents,” Flojo wrote.
Gipson would be another huge loss for the safety spot. The 32-year-old went from late practice squad signing to starting in all 17 games for the 49ers. And he responded with picking off a team-high five passes in his first season in the Bay Area. Gipson signed a one-year deal worth $1,120,000. The 49ers could consider rewarding Gipson with an extended stay. But Flojo points out the defense having youth to work with elsewhere.
“While the Niners have young options like Samuel Womack and Ambry Thomas, signing a veteran like Chauncey Gardner-Johnson could be a wise move. This is especially given his affordability. With a projected value of $5.6 million, the 49ers should sign him up quickly without much difficulty,” Flojo said.
Would CJGJ be Even Better in 49ers Defense?
The 49ers and Eagles defenses were structured similarly when scrutinizing the schemes and personnel.
Both teams prided itself on rushing the passer then being quick everywhere else. If anything, the Eagles’ cornerbacks out-picked the 49ers with their CBs getting a combined eight interceptions while the 49ers got three.
But if Gardner-Johnson were to hop over to the Bay Area, he’s walking into a younger cornerback room with Charvarius Ward coming off a career-year in tackles and pass deflections and Deommodore Lenoir leading the way in picks during the playoffs. And he’ll have a Pro Bowl safety in Talanoa Hufanga next to him as well. The 49ers having a distinguished defensive back mind in new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks also could be enough to persuade the 25-year-old.
Fans of the 49ers can think of it as this: They’ll be getting a younger version of Jimmie Ward if “CJGJ” puts on the 49ers uniform in 2023. And Gardner-Johnson’s recent big game experience can add more fuel for a ’23 run on the 49ers’ end.