March 16, 2024   4 MIN READ

Always On My Mind

CGJG: Returning Is "Right Decision"


Following a moderate delay between Friday afternoon’s final media availability, a whistle gently bellowed through the Eagles’ NovaCare Complex auditorium around 2:15 p.m.

The room quieted, as the source was soon revealed to be Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, trudging his way down the walkway, before faintly singing the opening lyrics of Eminem’s “Without Me” – “Guess who’s back, back again …” –  as he took the podium for his introductory press conference.

“Like I never left,” a grinning Gardner-Johnson said when asked how he felt returning to a team he’d reached the Super Bowl with two seasons prior.

GETTY IMAGES: C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s return arms the Eagles with a playmaker on defense.

Gardner-Johnson, 26, agreed to terms on the second day of the legal tampering period to a three-year, $33 million contract. He spent the 2023 season in Detroit, where a pectoral injury limited him to only three regular-season games.

This time last year, the multi-layered conundrum between Gardner-Johnson’s camp and the Eagles – who had prioritized retaining Gardner-Johnson on the heels of his league-leading seven interceptions – prompted the ball-hawking defensive back to balk and pivot, later agreeing to a one-year deal in Detroit.

While the signing was met with considerable fanfare in Detroit, Gardner-Johnson endured an injury-riddled tenure with the Lions, sustaining an injury in training camp in addition to the Week 2 pec injury, which shelved him for most of the season.

Sure, his season hardly went according to plan for the charismatic defensive back, though the setback afforded him some reflection.

“It was fine for me because I learned myself,” he said. “I figured out, ball isn’t always about you; it’s about 50 other guys out there, front office. So, being hurt and taking a step back and not being the focal point made me realize I wanna be part of some better and greater than where I’m at, if that makes sense.

“I wanna be able to take that next step. And I think I made the right decision.”

Whether it be tongue-in-cheek or calculated shots across the bow, Gardner-Johnson appeared to keep tabs on the Eagles from afar and harkened back to his time here, despite saying that he had been focused solely on his Lions goings-on.

He even made an off-hand remark about the fanbase. Perhaps that was Gardner-Johnson’s way of revealing his desire to return to the city that embraced the journeyman defensive back with open arms when he was traded here in late August of 2022.

Multiple times he thought about Philly, Gardner-Johnson admitted, illustrating his eagerness to return.

Both sides put the past aside, an apparent acknowledgment that a reunion would be mutually beneficial. Gardner-Johnson said he approached things differently this time around.

“Take your feelings out of it and be willing to be a man about certain things and accept certain things as a man,” he said. “So, I think right now, coming back was a relief, cause I’m familiar with the people here and the place, and I’m comfortable. So, the difference from last year to this year is we both saw eye-to-eye.”

Known across the NFL as a pesky agitator, chatty and edgy player, Gardner-Johnson can bring back a much-needed swagger to an Eagles defense in transition.

And just when you thought Gardner-Johnson couldn’t possibly be any more tailor-made for Philly, he revealed the vision behind his next jersey number would be influenced by a late, legendary local.

“My favorite player is from here,” Gardner-Johnson began. “I think tapping into a different mentality is something people will be great to see this year.

“I’m on my Kobe [Bryant] mode right now. So, I’m comin’ out with the Mamba. I’m comin’ out with the [No.] 8.”

The acclimation in terms of communication and chemistry figures to be seamless, as he rejoins an Eagles backend returning a host of familiar faces, including Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Reed Blankenship.

When asked about his knowledge of new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheme – one which demands high-level safety play – Gardner-Johnson was quick to answer before consciously conveying a message that should resonate with fans across the Delaware Valley.

“Legit,” he said before pausing. “I’m ready to ball with all the guys that are here. And ready to take the next step as a player and win a championship.”

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for

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