Jaylon Johnson has been one of the Bears’ most consistent defenders since joining the team as a second-round selection in 2020.
Re-signing him to a long-term deal seems like a no-brainer, but several factors make it less black and white than it appears on the surface.

He is entering the last year of his rookie contract, and this season will be vital for him as he attempts to prove his worth to both the Bears and 31 other teams in the league.

Johnson has proven capable of being a starting-caliber perimeter cornerback, and that much is obvious. He’s improved throughout his career and has put up some really solid tape against some of the league’s best receivers.

However, there are still questions about whether he can take the next step and become an elite cover man, as many believe we have already seen the best he has to offer.

While Johnson has shown flashes of being a building block, it is fair to question how much confidence the Bears brass have in the 24-year-old. After all, he was a Ryan Pace draft pick who doesn’t seem like an ideal fit for a defense that emphasizes turnovers. Matt Eberflus’ HITS formula may seem gimmicky, but it worked wonders on the Colts’ defense, which finished in the top 12 in takeaways during each of his four seasons as their defensive coordinator.

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Johnson only has one career interception and two forced fumbles. While it is true that a lack of ball production is often an indication of a cornerback locking his guy down, the great ones find a way to get their hands on the ball regardless. There might never be another Charles Tillman (who also wore number 33), but Johnson would make himself some serious money if he could incorporate the Peanut Punch into his arsenal. Understandably, the team would want to see more production from him before paying him like one of the premier cornerbacks in the league.

While Johnson’s lack of turnovers may be the most significant deterrent to signing him to a long-term deal, he must also prove he can stay healthy. He has missed multiple games every season and played in a career-low 11 contests last year. The cover man can be depended on to play at a high level on the field, but he can’t help the team win from the sidelines.

The first selection of the Ryan Poles era was a cornerback (Kyler Gordon), and he went back to the well again with the selection of Tyrique Stevenson in the second round last month. These additions don’t necessarily mean that they are sure to move on from him (defenses field three cornerbacks roughly 75% of the time in today’s NFL). Still, they do indicate that they have planned for a scenario where he will not be returning.

The Bears began OTA’s last week, and Johnson was one of few notable names not in attendance (for the second year in a row). While his absence is undoubtedly disappointing, it is important not to overreact when a player is a no-show to an optional practice in May. We will have a bigger issue at hand if he doesn’t show up when minicamp begins in July.

If he holds out, he risks losing valuable time gaining chemistry with teammates and getting off to a slow start once the games start to matter. Additionally, it could also become a distraction for a young defense counting on him to be the top cover man. While things would have to take a turn for the worse to reach Roquan Smith’s territory, that is not out of the question if the front office is already unsure of his future in Chicago.

Johnson is someone the Bears should want to keep around. Their track record of keeping players beyond their rookie contract is.. well, bleak.

With that said, they have to find common ground on a deal that works for both sides, and this year will be vital as both sides attempt to establish a market for his services.

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