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CB Jaylon Johnson Staying Put

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Trumaine Johnson‘s standing as the most recent cornerback to be franchise-tagged (in 2017) may change soon. Jaylon Johnson continues to look unlikely to reach free agency.

After a monster contract year that included a first-time Pro Bowl nod, Jaylon Johnson expressed a desire to stay in Chicago. Ryan Poles did not mince words upon sharing the same sentiment; the third-year Bears GM said the four-year veteran “is not going to go anywhere.” The Bears would have until March 5 to apply the franchise tag on Johnson.

Poles relayed confidence (via the Chicago Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley) about retaining Johnson, indicating the sides will work to reach an agreement. This continues both parties’ effort to reform this partnership, one tested when the Bears let Johnson seek a trade hours before the October deadline.

The Bills and 49ers were among the teams to discuss a swap, but the Bears held onto their top cover man. While a tag would keep the door open for offer sheets, that is an unrealistic scenario due to the two first-round draft picks that would change hands in the event of the Bears not matching the terms. The Bears could use the transition tag, but they would not be entitled to any compensation in the event of an unmatched offer sheet. Chicago is the most recent team to place any tag on a corner, transition-tagging Kyle Fuller in 2018, and it matched Green Bay’s offer sheet to retain him.

Fuller’s career arc resembles Johnson’s. The Bears declined Fuller’s fifth-year option in 2017 and watched him submit a quality contract year. Fuller built on that late-emerging form in 2018, earning first-team All-Pro honors. Johnson intercepted four passes and rated as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 overall cornerback this season. By his own account, the Utah alum made some money in his contract year.

With the salary cap expected to check in around $240MM (up from $224.8MM), the corner tag is on track to come in around $18MM. That is a steep tag, but the Bears used a $17.88MM tag on Allen Robinson in 2021. Johnson’s age (24) makes him a more appealing player to keep, and despite the Bears prioritizing an extension for Montez Sweat shortly after they let Johnson seek a trade, it certainly appears Poles views both players as defensive pillars.

As the team prepares to make its pivotal quarterback decision — seemingly picking up Justin Fields‘ fully guaranteed fifth-year option or trading him and drafting Caleb Williams at No. 1 — a rookie-QB contract would support three top-market deals on defense (counting Tremaine Edmunds‘ $18MM-AAV deal). Three corners (Jaire Alexander, Denzel Ward, Jalen Ramsey) are on pacts at or north of $20MM per year; three more (Marlon Humphrey, Trevon Diggs, Marshon Lattimore) are signed for at least $19MM per year. Johnson’s camp will assuredly target this range for his second contract.

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