June 25, 2024   4 MIN READ

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CJGJ Return Tops Birds Offseason Overhaul

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In the aftermath of a dismal end to a once-promising 2023 season, the Eagles enacted an aggressive, all-in approach when repairing the roster, looking to reload for a deep playoff run.

The free-agent addition of running back Saquon Barkley, who arrived with considerable fanfare, is likely at the top of the heap for most in terms of having the biggest impact among the newcomers.

The Eagles are banking on the 27-year-old to be a special player in a reconfigured offense, so there figures to be no shortage of opportunities for Barkley to fulfill the enormity of expectations.

Defensive backs Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean, early-round rookies, also warrant consideration for having the greatest potential impact, though given the plethora of talent at the position and some typical first-year hiccups, I’m not entirely convinced they’ll factor prominently enough to garner that distinction.

There’s also the Eagles’ two new coordinators, Kellen Moore for offense and Vic Fangio for defense, both of whom are expected to hit the ground running and engineer tangible results.

If the Eagles are to break free of the malaise of last season, they’ll need Moore and Fangio to be critical pieces.

Personally, I’d even toss pass game coordinator/defensive backs coach Christian Parker into the mix, as his reputation for imparting wisdom, enforcing communication and explaining the why behind each call will directly impact the trajectory of the team’s revamped secondary. Parker, a highly respected ascending coach, should provide immediate returns.

But with the days ticking by leading up to training camp, I came to my ultimate decision on the Eagles’ most impactful offseason addition:

Photo credit Justin Casterline/Getty Images: The return of C.J. Gardner-Johnson arms the Eagles with a much-needed playmaker in the secondary.

S C.J. Gardner-Johnson

Amid the avalanche of communicational breakdowns, lapses and – in some cases – regression that hampered the Eagles’ defense last season, the turnover production also waned.

The same can be said for the swagger that once prominently characterized Jonathan Gannon’s unit a season earlier.

Instead, the 2023 defense epitomized a vicious riptide that ultimately couldn’t be overcome. And nothing – or no one – could rescue the floundering unit from collapse.

Gardner-Johnson, signed to be a crucial component to the defensive restoration, returns following an injury riddled one-year stint with the Detroit Lions.

A prominent fixture on the Eagles’ 2023 Super Bowl defense, Gardner-Johnson provides invaluable positional versatility and ball skills, as evidenced by his banner 2022 campaign, when he qualified as the NFL’s co-leader in interceptions (6).

Gardner-Johnson, unapologetically himself, oozes confidence and plenty of juice, which once again figures to radiate throughout the defense, manifesting in a swarming, fast-flowing and aggressive unit.

While his versatility should be particularly enticing to Fangio, who can creatively deploy Gardner-Johnson at multiple positions to create mismatches, Gardner-Johnson’s penchant for manufacturing turnovers shouldn’t be understated – especially with so many variables up front rushing the passer.

GETTY IMAGES: The ability to flip momentum – and the field – with an interception was one of Gardner-Johnson’s main assets for the Birds in 2022.

Gardner-Johnson, 26, offers the ability to alter momentum on a single play.

The re-arrival of Gardner-Johnson benefits the entire back end, but perhaps no one more than fellow safety Reed Blankenship, who was often miscast as the Eagles’ top safety in his first season as a starter.

Blankenship, perhaps exploited a bit under the spotlight, will no longer be burdened with shouldering all the responsibilities.

In more of a complementary role, with Gardner-Johnson patrolling the secondary, Blankenship will be able to play more freely, allowing his natural instincts and playmaking ability to take over.

Sure, there’s injury concerns, as Gardner-Johnson missed 14 regular-season games last season with the Lions due to a torn pectoral. He was limited to 12 regular-season games in his first go-round with the Eagles.

Still, the upside and influence will be undeniable. And with Gardner-Johnson operating at full capacity, Fangio’s unit should see a drastic return.

It was a move the Eagles simply had to make.

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

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