Cornerback Jaylon Johnson is getting paid this offseason, either by the Chicago Bears or one of the several NFL teams in need of help in the secondary.
Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report on Monday, November 13, projected that Johnson will earn a five-year contract worth $97.5 million in total.
Johnson projects as the top cornerback headed to the 2024 market. Chicago considered trading the 24-year-old at the deadline but opted to keep him, and Johnson has turned his attention away from seeking a contract extension.
While Chicago does mix its coverages — as teams typically do — head coach Matt Eberflus has traditionally leaned on a zone defense. Chicago ran zone 55 percent of the time last season, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Johnson would be a great fit for the Miami Dolphins and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whose system emphasizes light boxes and disguised zone coverages. The San Francisco 49ers are another zone-heavy team that could use a top-tier corner on the back end.
Jaylon Johnson Posting Career Year with Bears in 2023
Johnson is playing on the final season of his four-year, $6.5 million rookie deal. He’s got a market value north of $17 million, per Spotrac, and will have strong negotiating leverage to push that number higher if he finishes the 2023 season the same way he started it.
The cornerback is having a career year, currently rated 6th among all players at his position through Week 10 by Pro Football Focus. Johnson has amassed 4 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, a forced fumble and a defensive touchdown in eight games played. He has held opposing quarterbacks to a collective completion percentage of 60.0% and a collective rating of 60.4 across 35 targets, per Pro Football Reference.
Johnson spoke openly about wanting a lucrative new contract last month given all of his on-field success.
“I’ve been wanting to get to the table,” Johnson said on October 22, per Mark Grote of 670 The Score. “I know who I am. I know I can play this game at a high level, and I feel like I deserve to get paid like that.”
Denzel Ward of the Cleveland Browns has the highest overall contract value of all NFL cornerbacks at $100.5 million, while Jaire Alexander of the Green Bay Packers boasts the highest average annual salary of $21 million, according to Over The Cap.
Bears Can Complicate Jaylon Johnson’s Free Agency with Franchise Tag
Johnson and the Bears failed to reach an agreement on a new deal over the summer. Negotiations continued into the season, but a deal remained elusive.
The cornerback eventually asked for, and received, permission from the team to seek a trade. There was significant interest on the market, including from the Buffalo Bills, but the Bears ultimately decided to hold onto Johnson.
Given Chicago’s struggles this season (3-7), the choice to keep Johnson indicates that the Bears may undercut his free agency by utilizing the franchise tag to keep him through 2024. That sort of deal will pay the cornerback in the range of $20 million over one campaign, while a long-term contract might pay him close to that figure annually over a four- or five-year span.
The franchise tag is the one card the Bears have to play, but if they do that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the discussion. The team can continue to negotiate with Johnson and try to come to a multiyear agreement, or it can ensure the opportunity to trade him next summer or fall and gain draft value in the process.