Breaking down the Saints’ C.J. Gardner-Johnson trade

C.J. Gardner-Johnson #22 of the New Orleans Saints. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
C.J. Gardner-Johnson #22 of the New Orleans Saints. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Two weeks before the start of the season, the New Orleans Saints have sent defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson to the Philadelphia Eagles in a shocking trade.

The Eagles received Gardner-Johnson and a 2025 seventh-rounder while the Saints received a 2023 fifth-rounder and the worse of the Eagles’ two sixth-round picks in 2024, per Adam Schefter.

If it feels a bit like a lopsided trade, keep in mind the Saints had reduced leverage in negotiations given the fact that any interested team would have to sign Gardner-Johnson to a big-money extension.

The former Saints defensive back limited his participation in training camp earlier this month to position himself for a mega-deal, yet it seems the Saints were unwilling to pay Gardner-Johnson the amount he wanted.

Gardner-Johnson was entering the final year of his rookie contract, and rather than wait for free agency next year, the young defensive star has taken matters into his own hands. Much to the dismay of his teammates and Saints fans, he’ll be donning green and black in 2022.

Saints send C.J. Gardner-Johnson to Philly in a jaw-dropping trade

In Philly, Gardner-Johnson will reportedly take on a full-time safety role — rather than the nickel role he had on the Saints — which is a far more premium position and could pay off much better in the long term.

Gardner-Johnson’s career eerily imitates that of former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. After five productive seasons in NOLA, Jenkins joined the Eagles and played some of the best football of his career, earning three Pro Bowls. Jenkins ultimately returned to the Saints at end of his career and remained beloved by New Orleans.

Could Gardner-Johnson be headed down that very same path?

By all accounts, this trade culminated from a mutual decision to part ways: the Saints didn’t want to pay Johnson top-of-the-market safety market, and Gardner-Johnson wanted to play for a team that would. NOLA also figured it could recoup more draft capital from a trade now rather than wait for Gardner-Johnson to hit free agency.

From a pure talent perspective, New Orleans boasts a deep enough secondary unit and can afford losing a player like Gardner-Johnson. Bradley Roby, P.J. Williams, Alontae Taylor — these players can feasibly step in and lock down the backfield for years to come.

Yet some of Gardner-Johnson’s traits simply can’t be replicated.

The trade deals the worst possible blow to team morale as Gardner-Johnson has molded himself into a defensive leader and one of the most animated figures on the team for the last three years.

No other player would have gotten up in Tom Brady’s face in a tense matchup against Bucs, and no other player would have kicked the Atlanta Falcons logo as viciously as he did during one of their season games.

Forget all the taunting penalties — Gardner-Johnson’s loud and colorful personality shined through more than any of his defensive plays during his time in NOLA, and he will be sorely missed.

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Gear up for a very entertaining matchup when the Saints play the Eagles in Week 17.