Before the start of NFL Free Agency, I will attempt to break down as many of the Eagles’ free agents as possible. Each article will include stats, the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and my overall thoughts on whether the player should be re-signed or not. All rankings only include players with at least 20% of the snaps this year. All statistics are via Pro Football Focus unless mentioned otherwise!
With NFL free agency about to begin, I thought I would do something a little different with this one and look at both Marcus Epps and C.J Gardner-Johnson. I’ll do an overview of the statistics before doing a quick summary of each player then look at what I think we should do at the end.
Honestly, I think using stats to evaluate safety play is pretty impossible. It is interesting to look at, and I find it interesting that PFF does not rank CGJ or Marcus Epps very highly, but realistically I do not believe they were anywhere near as bad as the PFF grades make them out to be. What is interesting though, is that PFF does really like Reed Blankenship. So you can’t just accuse them of not ranking players in this system highly. I think the stat that stands out the most is Marcus Epps' number of snaps. He basically never came off the field. Remember that availability is a talent.
+ He is a tone-setter on defense. Very clearly a leader of the team and can bring attitude to a defense when it needs it. You can’t really measure this by stats or film but you get a feeling watching games that he could do something to shift the momentum
#13 CGJ should be a priority to bring back. It was about time someone showed up against the run and hit somebody. I was angry watching the film. Everyone was so passive. Davis gets stonewalled again & doesn't command a double team. TJ gets done by a TE. Ugh. I want CGJ back. pic.twitter.com/TLx2uSStK9— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) February 14, 2023
+ Not afraid to come into the box and help out in run defense, whether as a slot corner or a safety
#4 CGJ played in the slot (unless only 4 DBs were on the field) and played really well. This play stood out because the Eagles defense uses the nickel in their run fits quite frequently and Maddox is good in the box despite being undersized. It's a good sign that he played well pic.twitter.com/oLoha7PeSN— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) January 11, 2023
+ Finds the ball in the air and can make a play on it. 6 Interceptions last year cannot be understated
Eagles played a lot of single-high. CGJ was usually the deep safety and he did a good job overall. Murray is hoping he bites on the deep crosser here but he takes a step in that direction and then redirects quickly. I think he's almost baiting Murray here and it's a top play. pic.twitter.com/BKt86IUmDN— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) October 11, 2022
+ Has cornerback skills due to his time playing there with the Saints. Not many safeties will come down and press a wide receiver
Bradberry's not just a zone corner either, here he does a great job pressing the WR to the sideline and making it pretty much impossible to catch. Check out CGJ in the slot pressing here too - this is the advantage of having two safeties who can cover. pic.twitter.com/2kLSTXDtbi— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) October 18, 2022
CGJ struggled in the slot but phew, this is a beauty! Ridiculous decision by Heinicke but still a fantastic read and the ability to go up and get the football is impressive. Thank you @Saints pic.twitter.com/dooljMVh5X— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 17, 2022
+ A very versatile defender. Can play the slot, come into the box, play as the single-high safety, or as a split-safety.
+ Adjusted to the Eagles’ defensive scheme very quickly.
- Will not come down into the box and shed blocks consistently. Just not his game
Eagles Defense All22 thread vs. Lions. Where to start here? Lions kept motioning a WR very tight to add an extra blocker. Ends up 7on7 in the box... Which is bad. Edwards going in wrong direction, White/CGJ can't shed blocks and Bradberry misses a 1on1 tackle. Not great all round pic.twitter.com/JjRjm7Rj70— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) September 13, 2022
- He can get beat in man coverage as a slot defender quite consistently by good receivers. I think he’s better as a safety who can cover the slot if needed
Another McLaurin win Vs man coverage... For a former slot corner, CGJ could not handle him one-on-one. The Eagles altered their coverage for Justin Jefferson week 2 and although McLaurin is not that good, I thought they could have done more to help the secondary in man coverage. pic.twitter.com/UjtNbYB7VX— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 17, 2022
- Loves to hit hard but it does mean he misses a few too many tackles in the open field. This was an issue at the start of the year.
Again, not to pick on CGJ but when you play this passive defense you need your 2 safeties to come up quickly and make a play. It's a hard job and he misses another difficult tackle. Both Edwards/White really struggled to get off blocks in the run game too which was disappointing pic.twitter.com/n84dAij9z4— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) September 13, 2022
+ Really good as a run defender when he comes into the box late.
Eagles all22 defense thread vs. Jags. Jags motioned the TE into the box (which we've seen teams do to the Eagles all year) but just look at Epps come down into the box and find the back. This play simply didn't happen week 1 with both safeties really deep. Really good sign pic.twitter.com/n1zZfumGlX— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) October 4, 2022
+ Excellent as a split-safety and reading deep over/crossing routes. He has an excellent understanding of the Eagles’ scheme that they ran under Jonathan Gannon
This sack was a fantastic play by both new signings Joseph and Suh, but was only made possible by Marcus Epps reading the deep over route from his safety position and taking away the throw. Great example of how connected the pass rush and secondary are. pic.twitter.com/HCrIVoADjl— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 23, 2022
This is how you play the post cross! The Eagles got beat by it earlier on but this is perfect by Marcus Epps who just continues to make an awesome play every single week. pic.twitter.com/iOUP8zAZmF— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 17, 2022
+ Good tackler in the open field too, not just in run defense
Let's end with my current favourite defensive player... Marcus Epps is just awesome. This is a tough, tough open field tackle on Curtis Samuel but he just rarely ever misses in the open field! His speech, recognition and tackling in the open field is really high level. pic.twitter.com/Hh2vz1frBR— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) September 27, 2022
+ Has really improved his game over the past few years. This was his first year as a full-time starter.
+ Played nearly every snap on a historically good pass defense in the regular season. That has to count for something.
- Is not a player you want in man coverage that often... (especially in the SB against Travis Kelce. Thanks Jonathan Gannon).
#2 I hate this call. I know Kelce motions, but if you're playing cover 1 hole anyway just keep Slay on Kelce. You end up with Epps on Kelce and no help at all. It's the worst possible matchup for the Eagles secondary. The route/throw are brilliant but this is a poor call. pic.twitter.com/YnYDSL9cuo— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) February 14, 2023
- Limited in terms of position versatility. He’s not really a single-high safety or someone who can cover the slot on a consistent basis.
- Is pretty aggressive in coverage, especially as a zone defender, which means he can be targeted
It's easy to point the finger at Scott here who does get beat but he's expecting safety help from Epps who gets moved expertly by Tannehill's eyes. It's a great throw from Tannehill and Burks. And they beat Epps/Scott. pic.twitter.com/NL9KTg301Y— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) December 6, 2022
This is a sad one for me. I really like both players. I wrote about Marcus Epps last year and he has basically become exactly what I thought he would be. He’s a good starting safety who I think is underrated by a lot of the fan base. CGJ is a little bit more boom-bust as a player, but everyone wants a player like CGJ. He may not be ‘elite’ in my opinion, but he is a very good player. He is the tone-setter for the defense. The player you can count on to make a big play. He is the type of defender that can change the momentum of a game. Epps is a good player and a personal favorite of mine, but he simply doesn’t have that game-changing ability. Not many players on the back end do.
In terms of money, Spotrac has CGJ valued at 5 years $66m which ranks 10th amongst current safeties. That seems about right when you consider Marcus Williams signed a 5 year $70m contract last off-season. What might help out the Eagles is the fact that this is a strong safety class (of FA’s) and CGJ is not the only good safety out there. I know it’s a lot of money, but I would love CGJ back, although I do think it’s fair to have concerns when you start getting past the $12m a year range because he is probably a tier below the elite safeties in the league.
Spotrac has not valued Marcus Epps yet, so I am not sure what type of contract he will get but PFF has valued him at 2 years $13m. I would imagine he will want a longer contract with more guarantees but if he has to settle for a short-term contract, I think the Eagles should absolutely bring him back. The Eagles will be competing next year and keeping a solid starter seems to make a lot of sense to me, especially if he does not cost a lot.
In a perfect world, I would splash the cash on CGJ and have him start next to Blankenship next year. But if a bidding war pushes him up too much, I would absolutely settle for Epps as a plan B. Re-signing Epps shouldn’t dissuade the Eagles from adding another safety, either via FA or the draft.
Personally, I would be a little worried if the Eagles do not bring back either of them and lose James Bradberry and maybe even Darius Slay this year. I think they need to bring back 1 of either Epps or CGJ.
Would I re-sign = YES. At least one of them.
Should the Eagles re-sign CJGJ?
This poll is closed
Should the Eagles re-sign Marcus Epps?
This poll is closed