The drama was always bubbling just below the surface between CJ Gardner-Johnson and the Saints this offseason, and the results were made clear in this week's bombshell trade.
The Saints' firebrand nickelback is headed to the Philadelphia Eagles in yet another trade between the two organizations, news first reported by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport Tuesday morning.
The compensation was reported as the Eagles' 5th-round pick in 2023 and the later of the Eagles' two 6th round picks in the 2024 draft. The Saints also sent their 7th-round pick in 2025, according to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The trade came as a surprise just hours before the 53-man cutdown deadline, but it wasn't completely unexpected. Gardner-Johnson was seeking a new deal as he entered the final year of his rookie contract, and the team hadn't seemed to budge even as the DB withheld from practice for several days to get a deal done.
Gardner-Johnson, a 4th-round pick from the 2019 draft, became a fan-favorite in New Orleans through both his play and his ability to mentally subvert the most well-laid plans of his opponents. Twice in the 2020 season Gardner-Johnson aggravated Bears WRs to the point that they threw a punch and got ejected from the game. He's also manned the slot effectively each of the past three seasons, starting 31 games with 5 interceptions, 28 passes defensed, 3 sacks and 161 tackles.
While there were multiple other factors in play, the Saints saw their success come and go with CJ in the 2021 season. In games he played, the team was 9-3 and allowed an average of 15.6 points per game. In the five games he missed, the team went 0-5 and allowed and average of 29.4 points per game.
But with some of the best depth in years at defensive back, it's not difficult to understand why the team felt it could move on from Gardner-Johnson, even if it didn't improve the team right away. The Saints invested a second-round pick in Alontae Taylor this offseason, and veterans Bradley Roby and PJ Williams represent quality depth that could fill in the slot throughout the season.
The next question will be the compensation, which will be interesting to watch, considering the Eagles already own the Saints' first-round pick in the 2023 draft. There will also be an immediate "revenge game" narrative to consider, with the Saints scheduled to head to Philadelphia for a matchup with the Eagles on New Year's Day. CJ shouldn't be expected to be quiet in that one.
Check back for updates.