Broncos Interested In C.J. Gardner-Johnson

Sean Payton‘s first free agency period in Denver has produced a few big-ticket signings. The former Saints coach is now looking into one of his former players for what would be a fourth major move as Broncos HC.

The Broncos are one of the teams interested in C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 reports (on Twitter). The Eagles wanted to retain the fifth-year defensive back ahead of free agency, but he hit the market and is fielding interest.

Philadelphia has managed to bring back longtime defensive stalwarts Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, along with James Bradberry. Late Wednesday night, they pumped the breaks on cutting Darius Slay as well. Slay’s monster cap number ($26.1MM) is still on Philly’s payroll. Until a new number surfaces, the contract-year cornerback’s status will remain in question. But these moves could impact the Eagles’ aim to re-sign Gardner-Johnson.

The Eagles traded for Gardner-Johnson just before last season, acquiring the ex-Saints slot cornerback and moving him to safety. Gardner-Johnson proceeded to tie for the NFL interceptions lead, notching six thefts despite missing five games. The Eagles are understandably keen on ensuring the 2022 trade investment does not bolt after one season. The team has lost its other starting safety, Marcus Epps, along with Javon Hargrave, T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White from its Super Bowl LVII-qualifying defense.

Payton coached Gardner-Johnson for three seasons, stationing the renowned trash talker in the slot. Gardner-Johnson functioned as New Orleans’ primary slot defender for multiple seasons. Months after Payton’s New Orleans exit, the former fourth-round pick could not come to terms with the Saints on an extension. That led to the trade. CJGJ will not come cheap, being one of the top options left available. He will not turn 26 until December.

Denver’s most lucrative defensive contract resides at Gardner-Johnson’s position, with Justin Simmons being the league’s sixth-highest-paid safety. Simmons, who also missed five games last season, shared the 2022 INT lead with Gardner-Johnson. The Broncos have not re-signed Kareem Jackson, a three-year starter for the team but a player who is going into his age-35 season, and have used 2021 draftee Caden Sterns as their backup. Veteran K’Waun Williams remains under contract for the Broncos in the slot.

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