Bears don’t trade Jaylon Johnson: What’s next for the 2 sides after negotiations stall?

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson is nothing if not confident. He’s also very self-aware.

Those qualities have been evident since he entered the league in 2020. They helped him become a star before that at Utah. It’s allowed fans to get to know him off the field, and he’s been outstanding on the field.

And we got a sense of it again Wednesday at Halas Hall, when Johnson spoke with the media one day after the NFL trade deadline passed, and two days after he was given permission to find the Bears a trading partner.

Johnson did say he was surprised he remained a Bear.

“I would say overall, seeking opportunity,” Johnson said of his request. “That’s the biggest thing for me. I feel like mentally it was a busy day, but of course nothing ended up happening, so really going about a normal Tuesday until the deadline hit and then reset my mind and focused on New Orleans.”

General manager Ryan Poles reiterated his belief in Johnson, too, and that he wants his No. 1 corner to remain a Bear.

“Jaylon and I have a really good relationship, a lot of transparency, we sit down, we talk, we go through different things and I heard a lot about not wanting Jaylon here long term,” Poles said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. He knows that we want him here and we’ve talked about that.”

But welcome to the world of negotiations. The two sides seemed close on Sunday when Poles met with Johnson’s representatives in Los Angeles. By Monday, the trade request came, and here we are.

‘Arguably, I feel like I’m the best corner in the game’

When Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs signed his extension in July, Johnson took note but also observed that the two were different.

“We’re in two totally different ballgames,” he said during training camp. “He’s an All-Pro, 15, 17 picks in three years. He’s done some really good things. Hats off to him and congrats to him. I am definitely happy for him and for the cornerback market as well.”

This was before Johnson had played a game. When the two sides got to the season without a new contract, Johnson took on some risk — but so did the Bears.

He missed two games with an injury, but when he’s been on the field, Johnson has been playing his best football.

Or as he said, “I feel like my impact is greater than it has been. And I mean that I feel like, arguably, I feel like I’m the best corner in the game right now.”

Conversations about cornerback value always start with interceptions. Johnson had two against the Raiders. He has four passes defensed. But he also doesn’t get as many balls thrown his way. Rookie Tyrique Stevenson is averaging three more targets per game than Johnson.

According to Pro Football Reference, Johnson has faced 28 passes in six games, with quarterbacks completing only 14 of them for 10.6 yards per completion, 5.3 yards per target and only one touchdown. He has only two missed tackles and a 10 percent missed tackle rate.

Those are all career-best marks in a season in which the Bears have struggled to rush the passer, as is the opponent passer rating when quarterbacks throw his way: 48.1.

Here’s how that stacks up, via PFR’s metrics, against the top cornerbacks by average salary per year, excluding Trevon Diggs, who is out for the season, and Jalen Ramsey, who just returned from injury.

Player Games INT TGT Cmp% Rating









































“Just going off that and continuing to play at a high level, that’s not gonna change,” Johnson said. “I feel like that only increases my value. And it so happens that you strike iron while it’s hot. That’s what it’s about.”

One opposing coach who has watched the Bears identified Johnson as the best player on the defense — at least before the Montez Sweat trade.

Johnson gives coach Matt Eberflus flexibility. He’s been able to lock down his side of the field.

He knows that. He said in the brief process of talking with other teams, some had a different value on him than the Bears. He smiled about the possibility of being the subject of a bidding war in free agency, a likely destination as Johnson is not expected to negotiate the rest of the season.

But he also maintained what he’s said from the start — his preference is to stay a Bear. Despite all the turmoil and losses, Johnson has not wavered.



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‘I don’t want to lose Jaylon Johnson’

Poles has instituted an open-door policy with his players who want to talk about an extension. Things can get personal in negotiations. He’s been in constant communication with Johnson.

Then came Monday, and Poles certainly seemed surprised to get the trade request. Out of respect, Poles said, he granted Johnson permission. Less than 24 hours before the trade deadline, the franchise’s top corner could have been on the move.

But Poles’ price wasn’t negotiable, and he said it was reflective of what it would take to replace someone of Johnson’s caliber.

“Here’s the thing. I don’t want to lose Jaylon Johnson,” Poles said. “If I were to lose Jaylon Johnson, I would like to have a high percentage of hitting on another Jaylon Johnson, which to me, is a late first- and into early second-(round pick). Really simple there. That didn’t happen.

“We are still open to getting a contract done. I know we’re going to follow Jaylon’s lead on how he wants to go about doing that, but we’re still open. And again, Jaylon and I have talked today.”

The Bills and 49ers reportedly were interested, per ESPN, but ultimately no team was willing to part with that kind of draft capital. There’s no doubting what Johnson has done on the field this season, but “on the field” is the operable phrase. He has missed two games. He missed six last season, two in 2021 and three as a rookie. He also missed two weeks during OTAs, which he said was about spending time with his daughter and hosting his charity event in California. Still, teams take those “voluntary” practices seriously.

Those could be factors in negotiations on the Bears’ side. It can be challenging for teams to make a massive investment in players who have any kind of question about durability.

Another issue could be precedent. After the Cole Kmet extension, Poles said has to be “careful in how you do things because the way that you do things, for one, is going to be held against you and it’s going to be a precedent for how you do things with everything else.”

The Bears have two other young, starting corners — Kyler Gordon and Stevenson. They also have rookie Terell Smith, who before contracting mononucleosis, had made a strong early impression.

If Johnson’s extension does get done, representatives for Gordon and Stevenson will keep that in mind when it’s their turn. And that depth could make it easier to part ways with Johnson if it comes to that.

But one of the reasons Poles acquired Sweat is the Bears need more good players — players who can alter the game. Johnson has been able to do that this season. He does it at a premium position. Now the question is how premium a price will he cost.



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Finding a middle ground

Remember how Johnson is self-aware? His honesty has always been appreciated, especially as the team has struggled during his time there, and he’s been more transparent about these negotiations than most athletes.

He paused to consider the question about how it feels to hear his employer value him at a number that isn’t in line with how he views himself.

“It’s easy to take everything personal,” he said. “For me, at the end of the day, Ryan (Poles) has his family to feed. Ryan has people he answers to. I feel like I have to, in a sense, respect that. … How he views me is for him and what’s best for the organization. I don’t take any of it personal.

“I also am not going to take any of it back on who I know I am and what I know I’m worth. I’m not asking to change the market or break records. I’m not asking for that. But I’m also not just going to take anything. ‘Like, OK, you deem me as this, so I’m this.’ No, I’m not just going to take one man’s word and just put that viewpoint on myself.

“It’s a balance of being professional, being respectful to what his goals are and what he’s trying to do but also what my goals are and what I’m trying to do. That’s about it.”

That brings us back to Diggs, who is making $19.4 million per year, an average salary that ranks fifth at cornerback.

Reaching out to a couple of agents (who don’t represent Johnson), the sense was that he could be paid as one of the top corners, maybe get in the back half of the top nine in average salary.

One agent could see Johnson pushing for $19 million per year, which would be just shy of Diggs. Another said Johnson being young (24) and ascending “should be close” to Diggs in value.

Another league source noted Johnson’s “outstanding” play this season but also his availability question marks, and that the price might be too high for the games he’s missed.

Johnson wants to focus on continuing to pile up good performances. If the Bears sign Sweat to a long-term deal, they could use the franchise tag on Johnson. They could still try to sign him before free agency. Heck, they could still keep him even if he explores the market.

The price could also keep going up if Johnson stays on his track and maybe adds an interception or two.

The Bears can point to Johnson’s missed games and their depth at corner and maybe be OK if he’s not here for the long term. But just like Sweat is a known commodity, worthy of the price the Bears paid, they know what they’re getting in Johnson.

“My passion, my fire for the game isn’t going to change over a contract, lack of trade,” he said. “I mean, I’m still going to go out there and play high-level football, and that’s what I’ve been doing all year.”



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(Photo: Quinn Harris / Getty Images)

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