Jaylon Johnson lands long-term deal with Bears after receiving franchise tag: Source

By Kevin Fishbain, Larry Holder and Adam Jahns

The Chicago Bears didn’t have to keep the franchise tag on cornerback Jaylon Johnson very long. The Bears and Johnson agreed to a four-year contract worth $76 million, a league source confirmed to The Athletic.

Johnson, who was given the franchise tag on Tuesday, will get $54.4 million guaranteed in the deal, which is 71.6 percent of the total contract, ranking him No. 1 among corners.

The average salary of $19 million pushes Johnson slightly outside the top five highest-paid cornerbacks in that scale, but Johnson will get $43.8 million fully guaranteed at signing (second-most for corners) and $28 million in first-year cash, which will rank second at corner.

A Pro Bowl corner in 2023, Johnson had a career year with four interceptions, including a pick six, to go along with 10 passes defensed. By advanced stats, it was also by far his best season, as he allowed only 4.8 yards per target and a passer rating of 50.9, per Pro Football Reference.

“I’m so proud of Jaylon the way he improved in the way he took the challenge to be a ball guy and he certainly did that,” coach Matt Eberflus said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “He’s a great leader not only in our defensive back room but in our whole defensive room too. He’s really starting to become a really good leader on our football team. So I’m excited about him

Johnson turns 25 in April, and this contract will allow him to possibly hit the open market again before he turns 29.

A second-round pick by former Bears general manager Ryan Pace in 2020, Johnson was one of the best rookie corners with 15 passes defensed. He has been the team’s No. 1 corner the past three seasons.

The Bears keep their top corner in the fold without making him the highest-paid corner by certain metrics, while Johnson is able to cash in on his best season. Current GM Ryan Poles is able to reward one of his own, too, which always makes an impact in the locker room — especially at Johnson’s position, which includes second- and third-year pros, respectively, Tyrique Stevenson and Kyler Gordon.



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How Johnson stacks up

There’s no question the Bears cornerback has improved every season. One illustration can be seen within his opposing passer ratings, via Stathead, in each of the last four seasons:

  • 2020: 107.5
  • 2021: 101.9
  • 2022: 94.6
  • 2023: 50.9

Here’s how Johnson stacked up last season at the top of the opposing passer rating rankings for cornerbacks. Also listed are interceptions and opposing completion percentage:

Franchise tags for Johnson and the Kansas City Chiefs’ L’Jarius Sneed dampen the cornerback crop for free agency. But teams don’t typically let top cornerbacks walk, so this makes obvious sense for the Bears to tag Johnson. And now the Bears have Johnson for the long haul with a new deal in place. — Larry Holder, NFL senior writer

A continued investment in defense

Johnson is the second holdover from the Pace era to get a contract extension from the Bears. Tight end Cole Kmet was first last year. But by extending Johnson, Poles also continued his significant investment in the Bears’ defense, which is run by Eberflus. The three biggest contracts on the Bears’ books belong to defensive players. The Bears acquired defensive end Montez Sweat from the Washington Commanders last season and then signed him to a four-year, $98 million deal. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds signed a four-year, $72 million contract last year in free agency. — Adam Jahns, Bears senior writer

How’d we get here?

When the Bears and Johnson couldn’t agree on a new deal last fall, he requested a trade, and seemed intrigued about the possibility of free agency. Poles set a high price, and Johnson remained a Bear while continuing to play at a high level to the point where come January, the GM said Johnson wasn’t going anywhere.

Both sides got on the same page and got a deal done before letting it drag into OTAs, like others on the tag usually do. It turned into a good situation for player and team. — Kevin Fishbain, Bears staff writer

Required reading

(Photo: Justin Casterline / Getty Images)

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