Jaylon Johnson

NFC North Notes: Bears, Vikings, Reader

Coleman Shelton started every Rams game at center last season, and the former UDFA logged a few starts there during the 2022 season. The Bears gave Shelton only a one-year, $3MM deal, however. Already rostering guards Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis, the Bears may view Shelton as a backup. This is because Chicago acquired Ryan Bates from Buffalo. Given a Bears RFA offer sheet in 2022, Bates remains attached to that contract (four years, $17MM). He looks more likely to be the favorite for Bears center duties than Shelton, ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin notes.

Bates, 27, does not have a notable history at center. At Penn State, he primarily played left tackle. The Bills used him primarily at guard, with Mitch Morse previously entrenched at center. Despite Buffalo matching the 2022 Chicago offer sheet, the team added two new guards — Connor McGovern, O’Cyrus Torrence — in 2023. Bates did not start a game for the Bills last season, but the ex-UDFA looks set to have a good shot at taking over at center for the Bears.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • The Bears’ four-year, $76MM Jaylon Johnson extension features an out in 2026. The deal calls for $10.6MM of Johnson’s $15.1MM 2026 base salary to be guaranteed for injury, but no skill guarantees are in place beyond 2025. KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson notes $7.6MM of Johnson’s 2026 base will shift to a full guarantee if the Pro Bowl cornerback is on the roster by that date. With no true guarantees on this deal post-2025, the Bears could get out with just $5MM in dead money (in the event of a post-June 1 cut) in 2026.
  • The Vikings have been active in using void years under GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. This practice cost the team when Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Tomlinson departed, but it is turning to cap space-saving measure heavily this year as well. Minnesota included four void years in Sam Darnold, Aaron Jones and Andrew Van Ginkel‘s deals, with three void years used to spread out the three-year, $22.5MM Blake Cashman contract’s cap hits. While this will create some dead money if these players are not re-signed before their contracts officially expire, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling observes it created some cap space in the event the Vikes need to carry a bigger 2024 cap number for Justin Jefferson, who has been on the extension radar for two years. That said, Jefferson’s 2024 cap figure is already at $19.7MM on the fifth-year option.
  • Looking elsewhere on the Vikings’ payroll, their Jonathan Greenard deal (four years, $76MM) features $42MM in total guarantees. The contract includes $4MM guaranteed for 2026, per Goessling. Though, that money is classified as injury guarantees, providing the Vikes — like the Bears with Johnson — some flexibility down the road on a $19MM-AAV contract.
  • Rounding up some Minnesota contract matters, Goessling adds Shaquill Griffin‘s one-year contract is worth $4.55MM and features $3.99MM fully guaranteed. The Vikings are giving Jonathan Bullard a one-year, $2.25MM deal to stay, per Goessling, who adds Dan Feeney‘s contract to come over from the Bears is worth $1.8MM. Jonah Williams, the defensive lineman, signed a one-year, $1.5MM deal that includes $350K guaranteed, Goessling offers. Jihad Ward‘s one-year accord is worth $1.8MM and includes $1MM guaranteed, The Athletic’s Dan Duggan tweets.
  • Initially labeled as being worth up to $27.25MM, D.J. Reader‘s Lions pact contains $22MM in base value. The Lions are only guaranteeing the veteran nose tackle $7.4MM at signing, per OverTheCap. Coming off his second quad tear in four years, Reader would receive a $4MM roster bonus on Day 3 of the 2025 league year. That date will certainly be pivotal for his Detroit future.
  • Arrested on a fourth-degree DWI charge in December, Vikings OC Wes Phillips pleaded guilty to a lesser charge recently. The third-year Minnesota OC pleaded guilty to a careless driving charge, Fox 9’s Jeff Wald notes. Phillips, 45, agreed to pay a $378 fine and will serve eight hours of community service.

Bears, Jaylon Johnson Agree On Extension

MARCH 8: The Bears’ successful effort to convince Johnson to accept an AAV below the franchise tag number came because of the frontloaded offer they presented. The contract will pay Johnson $28MM in 2024, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, with another $16MM in 2025. That two-year total is just north of where two tags would have gotten the four-year veteran ($43.56MM) and helps explain how the Bears locked him down days after applying the tag.

MARCH 7: After resuming extension talks with Jaylon Johnson recently, the Bears are set to remove that $19.8MM cap hold from their 2024 payroll. They have agreed to terms on an extension with the franchise-tagged cornerback, Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz tweets.

The sides are believed to have agreed to a four-year, $76MM extension that comes with $54.4MM guaranteed. This will give the Bears more cap space as they prepare to begin, in all likelihood, the Caleb Williams era. It also provides Johnson with a landmark raise considering his status going into last season.

This brings a choppy process to a conclusion; it also represents the culmination of a breakthrough year for the former second-round pick. After initial negotiations did not lead to the parties being on the same page, the Bears let Johnson seek a trade just before the deadline. The 49ers and Bills showed interest, but the Bears held out for a first- or second-round pick. After the deadline, both the Bears and Johnson expressed interest in regrouping and working on a deal. They have done so, and Johnson is now one of the NFL’s highest-paid corners.

Thursday’s extension gives the Bears a big-ticket contract on all three defensive levels; each has been agreed to over the past year. The Bears signed Tremaine Edmunds in free agency and acquired Montez Sweat via trade, extending him soon after that deal came to pass. Johnson gives Chicago a high-end DB payment. After Ryan Poles moved the last of Ryan Pace‘s high-end defender contracts (Eddie Jackson‘s) off the books this offseason, the third-year GM has reshaped Chicago’s defense.

Oftentimes, the franchise tag number serves as the floor for players regarding extensions. The Bears, despite the salary cap’s recent surge, have managed to lock down Johnson at an AAV slightly under his tag price. The $19MM-per-year salary only makes Johnson the NFL’s seventh-highest-paid CB, but it doubles as a windfall for a player who was not viewed as worthy of this type of contract going into last season. It also may set the market for L’Jarius Sneed, whom the Chiefs tagged and are believed to be OK with trading.

As far as guarantees go, Johnson’s $54.4MM figure will check in fifth at the position. ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler adds $43.8MM is believed to be fully guaranteed, and $28MM will come Johnson’s way in Year 1. That more important number ranks third among corners. Although Johnson came into the offseason expressing hope he could become the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, a frontloaded Bears offer likely swayed him from coming especially close to betting on himself again. Johnson, 25, will receive $60MM over the deal’s first three years, ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reports.

Johnson said last summer he wanted to sign a second contract with the Bears; the negotiations changed course after the season the former Pace draftee put together. Pro Football Focus graded Johnson first overall among corners, and Pro-Football-Reference’s coverage metrics backed that up. After allowing passer ratings (as the closest defender) north of 94.0 from 2020-22, Johnson checked in with a 50.9 number this season — a four-INT slate that produced a second-team All-Pro honor.

Also voted a Pro Bowler, Johnson had not received recognition coming into last season. This well-timed breakout reminds of Josh Norman‘s in 2015, but the ex-Panther needed to find his payday elsewhere after the team rescinded the contract-year wonder’s franchise tag, leading to a Washington landing. The Bears are instead investing in their late bloomer.

With Kyler Gordon and Tyrique Stevenson still on rookie contracts, Johnson will be the expensive piece at the position for the foreseeable future. The Bears may well be planning more moves to bolster their roster, with Williams’ rookie deal on track to reset the team’s contract clock at the position after three Justin Fields seasons.

Bears To Tag CB Jaylon Johnson

Procrastination reigns in the NFL. Coming into Tuesday, only two teams — the Bengals and Chiefs — had used their franchise tags. A host of subsequent tag calls are coming in hours before the 3pm deadline.

The Bears will follow through with their long-rumored Jaylon Johnson tag, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports. Although the Bears let Johnson seek a trade before last year’s deadline, they held onto the breakout corner. After an All-Pro season, the former second-round pick will be tied to a $19.8MM tag.

Given the interest from the Bears and Johnson about a long-term Chicago partnership, this was not a difficult tag to predict. As a result, the Bears will have until July 15 to work on an extension with the former second-round pick. Ryan Poles‘ team came into Tuesday with considerable cap space. The Bears will still have more than $55MM after tagging Johnson.

No cornerback had been tagged since the Rams kept Trumaine Johnson off the 2017 free agent market; this year, two corners have been cuffed. While the Chiefs have opened the window to a tag-and-trade move involving L’Jarius Sneed, the Bears look more likely to hang onto Johnson and work on an extension. The sides resumed talks recently.

Johnson, 25, did not look like a possible tag recipient coming into last season; like many have in modern NFL history, Johnson timed his breakout well. Pro Football Focus rated Johnson as the league’s best cornerback in 2023, and the former second-round pick intercepted four passes and allowed just a 50.9 passer rating as the closest defender. Johnson’s previous-best rating allowed: 94.6 in 2022. It would make some sense if the Bears made the Utah alum prove his second-team All-Pro slate was not a fluke, but the sides were talking an extension midway through last season. With Johnson floating out the prospect he wants to become the NFL’s highest-paid corner, these negotiations might be tricky.

Although Johnson has not proven to be a difference-maker over multiple seasons, the tag gives him some leverage in talks. Due to the recent cap spike, the 2024 CB tag number nearly matches Jaire Alexander‘s position-record AAV ($21MM). That said, the Bears also hold leverage by using the tag. Johnson can realistically only negotiate with one team, though the Bears would be entitled to a two-first-rounder haul if they failed to match another club’s offer sheet. That is a rare occurrence in franchise tag history.

Contract talks not progressing last fall led the Bears to let Johnson seek a trade hours before the deadline. The Bills and 49ers were among the teams to show interest, but the Bears sought a first- or second-round pick for the four-year starter. It is safe to assume no such offer emerged, and the sides regrouped. The Bears subsequently traded for Montez Sweat and extended him. With most of the Ryan Pace-era pieces off the roster on defense, Poles has some room to maneuver on defense. Although he did authorize a top-five ILB contract for Tremaine Edmunds, Poles does not have a big-ticket contract in place in the secondary at present. That could clear some runway space for a Johnson accord by July.

For now, teams in need of cornerbacks may look to the trade market. Conversely, the second-tier corners on this year’s market stand to see their price tags rise as a result of the Sneed and Johnson tags.

Bears, CB Jaylon Johnson Conducting Extension Talks

Arriving at a quarterback decision is the top offseason priority for the Bears, and the team could have a firm direction on that front in the near future. Finding a way to retain cornerback Jaylon Johnson is also high on the to-do list for general manager Ryan Poles, though.

When speaking to the media at the NFL Combine on Tuesday, the latter confirmed that extension talks are still ongoing between the team and Johnson’s camp. Specifically, he noted (via The Athletic’s Adam Jahns) that “conversations are going well” on that front. Obviously aiming to avoid the franchise tag, Poles and the Bears have an offer on the table (h/t Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times).

Johnson enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2023, recording four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. Those figures represented an uptick in ball production and earned him a Pro Bowl invite as well as second-team All-Pro honors. Of course, the 24-year-old’s market value has seen a healthy increase as a result of his play during his walk year. Trade talks in the build-up to the deadline did not produce an agreement, and Poles has subsequently stated Johnson will remain in Chicago for at least one more season.

That goal could be achieved by using the franchise tag, a rarity for corners but a backup plan which would ensure the former second-rounder does not reach the open market. Johnson has stated a desire to become the league’s highest-paid corner, which would require an AAV of more than $21MM on a new deal. Working out a pact in that price range will be a challenge for both parties, but it is striking that Poles spoke with considerable optimism when providing an update on the situation.

Chicago is once again in position to have considerable spending power in free agency, though retaining Johnson on a lucrative pact will eat into a large portion of the team’s cap space (especially if the $19.8MM tag is used). The window to apply tags is March 5, but Poles’ stance indicates a long-term agreement could be in place by that point.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

A valuable tool for teams to keep top free agents off the market, the franchise tag has been in existence since 1993. This week brought the opening of the 2024 tag window. Clubs have until 3pm CT on March 5 to apply tags. As the Giants’ situation showed last year, most of the tag-related business comes near the close of this window. Teams will continue to work toward re-signing their respective tag candidates, thus preventing a lofty franchise tender from hitting their cap sheet.

The legal tampering period opens March 11, with the new league year (and official free agency) starting March 13. Once a player is tagged, he has until July 15 to sign an extension with his respective team. Absent an extension agreement by that date, the player must play the 2023 season on the tag (or go the Le’Veon Bell/Dan Williams/Sean Gilbert route, passing on guaranteed money and skipping the season).

High-profile free agents remain weeks away from hitting the market. As PFR’s tag recipients list shows, a handful of players are prevented from taking their services to free agency each year. This year looks to present a few more tag candidates compared to 2023. With a handful of teams determining if they will need to use the tag to prevent a free agency path, here are the players who figure to be tagged or at least generate conversations about being franchised ahead of the March 5 deadline:


Josh Allen, OLB (Jaguars)
Tag cost: $24MM

GM Trent Baalke did not leave much suspense when he addressed Allen’s future last month. The veteran exec said the 2019 first-round pick will be a Jaguar in 2024, indicating the team would use its franchise tag if necessary. The Jaguars do have Calvin Ridley as a free agent, but the team would owe the Falcons a 2024 second-round pick if it extended the wide receiver’s contract before the start of the league year. The second pick sent to Atlanta will only be a third-rounder if Jacksonville lets Ridley hit free agency. It makes more sense for Jacksonville to circle back to Ridley after allowing him to test the market. An Allen tag effectively ensures that will happen.

Timing his sack breakthrough well, Allen registered a Jags-record 17.5 during his contract year. The five-year Jaguar has combined for 55 QB hits over the past two seasons and ranks top 10 in pressures over the past three. The tag regularly keeps top edge rushers from hitting free agency, and the 26-year-old pass rusher — while obviously wanting to be paid what he’s worth — expressed a desire to stay in Jacksonville long term.

The Jags have regularly unholstered their tag during the 2020s, cuffing Yannick Ngakoue in 2020 and then keeping Cam Robinson off the 2021 and ’22 markets. The team kept Evan Engram out of free agency last year. Robinson signed an extension in 2022, and the Jags re-upped Engram last July. The Ngakoue situation could be notable, as the edge rusher became disgruntled with the Jags and was eventually traded to the Vikings that summer. No signs of that level of trouble are brewing with Allen yet.

Jaylon Johnson, CB (Bears)
Tag cost: $19.8MM

Johnson is likely to become the first franchise-tagged cornerback since the Rams kept Trumaine Johnson off the 2017 market. The Bears are the most recent team to tag a corner, using the transition tag to cuff Kyle Fuller in 2018. They will almost definitely follow suit with Johnson, who has been rumored to be tagged for several weeks. A Ryan Pace-era draftee, Johnson expressed his desire to stay with the Bears ahead of his contract year. With that platform campaign producing some twists and turns, that price has gone up significantly.

After unsuccessful in-season extension talks, the Bears gave Johnson an 11th-hour opportunity to gauge his trade value. The Bears did not alert teams Johnson, 24, was available until the night before the Oct. 31 deadline. Although the Bills and 49ers engaged in talks about a trade, the Bears held out for a first- or second-round pick. Nothing materialized, which will likely come up during the team’s talks with Johnson. The Bears then extended trade pickup Montez Sweat, leaving Johnson in limbo. But the former second-round pick stuck the landing on an impact season. He is firmly in the Bears’ plans, and the team holds more than $66MM in cap space — plenty to squeeze in a tag onto the payroll.

Pro Football Focus’ top-graded corner in 2023, Johnson displayed a new gear that has made him worthy of a tag. Finishing with four interceptions and allowing just a 50.9 passer rating as the closest defender, the Utah alum soared to second-team All-Pro status. The Bears, who last used the tag on Allen Robinson in 2021, made no secret of their interest in retaining Johnson and will have a few more months to negotiate with him as a result of the tag.

Likely tag recipients

Brian Burns, OLB (Panthers)
Projected tag cost: $24MM

The Panthers hiring a new GM and head coach classifies this as just short of a lock, but familiar faces remain. Carolina promoted assistant general manager Dan Morgan to GM and blocked DC Ejiro Evero from departing. Burns has been viewed as a likely tag recipient since last season, after negotiations broke down. The Panthers have not offered a negotiating masterclass here, as Burns has been extension-eligible since the 2022 offseason. Since-fired GM Scott Fitterer had viewed Burns as a re-up candidate for two offseasons, but multiple rounds of trade talks boosted the 2019 first-rounder’s leverage.

In what looks like a mistake, the Panthers passed on a Rams offer that included two first-rounders and a third for Burns at the 2022 trade deadline. Carolina then kept Burns out of 2023 trade talks with Chicago about the No. 1 pick, ultimately sending D.J. Moore to the Windy City for the Bryce Young draft slot. Carolina also kept Burns at the 2023 deadline, as teams looked into the top pass rusher on the NFL’s worst team. Burns also saw his position’s market change via Nick Bosa‘s record-setting extension ($34MM per year). The 49ers’ landmark accord came to pass after Burns had set a $30MM-AAV price point, complicating Morgan’s upcoming assignment.

Burns, 25, has registered at least 7.5 sacks in each of his five seasons. While he has only topped nine in a season once (2022), the two-time Pro Bowler is one of the league’s better edge rushers. Given the Panthers’ history with Burns, it would be borderline shocking to see the team allow the Florida State alum to leave in exchange for merely a third-round compensatory pick.

Burns has said he wants to stay with the Panthers; he is unlikely to have a choice this year. The Panthers last used the tag to keep right tackle Taylor Moton off the market in 2021; the sides agreed to an extension that offseason.

Tee Higgins, WR (Bengals)
Tag cost: $21.82MM

Seeing their hopes of capitalizing on the final year of Higgins’ rookie contract dashed due to Joe Burrow‘s season-ending injury, the Bengals look to be giving strong consideration to keeping the Burrow-Higgins-Ja’Marr Chase trio together for one last ride of sorts. The Bengals hold $59.4MM in cap space — fifth-most currently — and structured Burrow’s extension in a way that makes a Higgins tag palatable. Burrow’s deal does not spike into historic cap territory until 2025.

While a future in which Chase and Higgins are signed long term is more difficult to foresee, the Bengals still carry one of the AFC’s best rosters. It is likely Burrow’s top two weapons remain in the fold for at least one more year. Higgins, 25, did not come close to posting a third straight 1,000-yard season. Burrow’s injury had plenty to do with that, though the former second-round pick started slowly. A Bengals 2023 extension offer underwhelmed Higgins, but the Bengals kept him out of trades. A tag will give Cincinnati the option to rent him for 2024. A tag-and-trade transaction is viewed as unlikely, as the Bengals load up again.

How the organization proceeds beyond 2024 will be a key storyline, but the Bengals — who kept Jessie Bates in similar fashion in 2022 — are positioned well to run back perhaps the NFL’s best receiving tandem. While director of player personnel Duke Tobin stopped short of guaranteeing Higgins will be a Bengal in 2024, signs point to it.

Justin Madubuike, DL (Ravens)
Tag cost: $22.1MM

Seeing their defensive coordinator depart and once again facing questions at outside linebacker, the Ravens have the option of keeping their top 2023 pass rusher off the market. They are probably going to take that route. Madubuike raised his price considerably during an impact contract year, leading the Ravens with 13 sacks. While Mike Macdonald was able to coax surprising seasons from late additions Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, Madubuike drove Baltimore’s defensive engine and will likely be guaranteed a high salary by signing his franchise tender.

Perennially interested in hoarding compensatory picks, the Ravens have regularly let breakthrough pass rushers walk in free agency. This dates back to the likes of Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee and subsequently included Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon. The Ravens have only been able to replace Judon with stopgap options — from Clowney to Van Noy to Justin Houston — and again must figure out a solution alongside Odafe Oweh on the edge. Madubuike, 26, proved too good to let walk; the former third-round pick will once again be expected to anchor Baltimore’s pass rush in 2024.

Antoine Winfield Jr., S (Buccaneers)
Tag cost: $17.12MM

We mentioned Winfield as the Bucs’ most likely tag recipient around the midseason point, and signs now point to that reality coming to pass. The Bucs want to re-sign Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans. The bounce-back quarterback’s tender price would check in at nearly $36MM, and because Evans was attached to a veteran contract, his tag number would come in well north of Higgins’ — at beyond $28MM. As such, the Bucs cuffing Winfield has always made the most sense, and after the second-generation NFL DB’s dominant contract year, it would be stunning to see the team let him walk.

The Bucs have let their recent top free agents test free agency, only to re-sign Shaquil Barrett (2021), Carlton Davis (2022) and Jamel Dean (2023). Winfield may be on a higher plane, having secured first-team All-Pro acclaim last season. Davis and Dean have never made a Pro Bowl; Winfield’s productive and well-regarded 2023 stands to separate him. Winfield, 25, tallied six sacks and three interceptions while forcing an NFL-leading six fumbles. This included a pivotal strip of DJ Chark in the Bucs’ Week 18 win over the Panthers, which clinched them the NFC South title.

Winfield will undoubtedly be eyeing a top-market safety extension. Derwin James established the current standard, $19MM per year, just before the 2022 season. Last year’s safety market did not feature big-ticket prices, for the most part, but the Falcons made Jessie Bates (four years, $64MM) an exception. If Winfield were to reach free agency, he would be expected to eclipse that.

The Bucs, who have used the tag three times in the 2020s, should not be considered likely to let Winfield follow Davis and Dean’s path by speaking with other teams. Tampa Bay has used the tag three times in the 2020s, cuffing Barrett in 2020 and tagging Chris Godwin twice. The team eventually re-signed both, and while the statuses of Mayfield and Evans (and All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs) create a crowded contract queue, the Bucs will certainly be interested in re-upping Winfield.

On tag radar

Saquon Barkley, RB (Giants)
Tag cost: $12MM

Barkley has said he wants to finish his career with the Giants, and the team will meet with the Pro Bowl running back’s camp at the Combine. But a recent report indicated the team is highly unlikely to tag the six-year veteran a second time. The Giants should not be ruled out from reversing course and keeping Barkley, given his importance to an otherwise low-octane offense, but it appears they are prepared to move on if the talented RB does not accept their extension offer this time around. A host of talented backs await in free agency, though Barkley would likely be the top prize were he to reach the market.

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Bears Expected To Use Franchise Tag On CB Jaylon Johnson

Once the 2023 trade deadline came and went without Jaylon Johnson being dealt, it appeared likely the Bears would use the franchise tag on the Pro Bowl corner. Signs continue to point in that direction.

Mike Jurecki of Arizona Football Daily reports the Bears are set to apply the tag to Johnson this offseason. Doing so will cost roughly $18.4MM on the one-year tender, and provide a larger window for negotiations on a long-term deal. The expectation for much of the offseason has been that a tag is the likeliest outcome in this situation.

Johnson enjoyed a career-year in 2023, posting four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He set new personal bests in coverage, allowing a completion percentage of 55.2% and a passer rating of 50.9. That made him a hot commodity on the trade front, with the Bears understandably setting a high asking price. In the end, Chicago elected to retain the second-team All-Pro and set up negotiations on a second contract over the course of the offseason.

In the wake of his impressive campaign, Johnson has publicly stated his goal of becoming the league’s highest-paid corner. The 24-year-old would need to find a deal worth more than $21MM per year to accomplish that, though he is in line for a substantial raise even if he does end up playing on the tag in 2024. If he has his way, Johnson will secure not only a multi-year pact, but manage to do remain in Chicago in the process.

“Heart’s definitely in Chicago, mind’s definitely on the money,” the former second-rounder told NFL.com at this week’s Pro Bowl. “So, I mean, we’ll figure out if we can make them both come together and get something done. I’m looking forward to see what’s to come.”

The Bears are set to have more cap space this offseason than most other teams, so absorbing the cap hit of a Johnson tag should not be challenging. Given the contrast of his first three seasons compared to 2023, though, it would be understandable if the Bears were hesitant to go beyond their price point on a long-term agreement. As things stand, therefore, a tag remains the expected move on Chicago’s part, and a decision on that front will need to be made no later than March 5.

Bears’ Jaylon Johnson Seeking To Become Highest-Paid CB

No updates to the cornerback AAV hierarchy came this past offseason. Jaire Alexander‘s $21MM-per-year Packers contract, agreed to in 2022, remains atop the position. Jaylon Johnson wants to change that.

Although Johnson’s trajectory reminds more of Josh Norman‘s in Carolina, with a monster contract year changing the equation, the Bears corner will reenter extension negotiations with a lofty expectation. The four-year Chicago starter believes he deserves to become the NFL’s highest-paid corner.

Going into the negotiation, I don’t think it’s too much really to talk about. I feel like there’s no reason I can’t be the highest-paid corner in the league,” Johnson said during an interview with Fox Sports’ Keyshawn Johnson (via NBC Sports Chicago’s Josh Schrock). “I feel like that’s what I’m aiming for; that’s what I’m shooting for; that’s what I think can be done and should be done.

The Bears and Johnson were unable to come to terms on an extension before the trade deadline, leading to GM Ryan Poles making the former second-round pick available in trades. Chicago aimed for a first- or second-round pick for the late-blooming defender; that price will probably come up when the sides return to the negotiating table. Still, Johnson’s second-contract aspiration will probably lead to the franchise tag being unholstered.

I feel like I’ve had a good enough resume from my rookie year until now,” Johnson said. “I feel like really this was just the icing on the cake. I feel like there’s not anything anybody can say. I took the ball away; I got All-Pro; I got Pro Bowl. I mean, what else is there for me to get? I feel like I’m very deserving of the highest paid at the position.

“I’m going to go in and the ball is really in my court. I’m just going to wait for them and come to terms on it and hopefully it’s what I feel I’m deserving of.”

A tag, which would cost Chicago around $18MM, makes more sense than a market-topping extension. While Johnson did earn Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors this season, his resume coming into the seminal contract year does not match up with his 2023 work. Pro Football Focus graded Johnson first overall among corners, and Pro-Football-Reference’s coverage metrics backed that up. After allowing passer ratings (as the closest defender) north of 94 from 2020-22, Johnson checked in with a 50.9 number this season — a four-INT slate. The sudden performance uptick would point to a “prove it” year, should the 24-year-old cover man stick to his guns.

The Bears becoming the first team to use a franchise tag on a corner since the 2017 Rams (Trumaine Johnson) would give them until mid-July to work out an extension. The Panthers tagged Norman in 2016, eventually rescinding the tag and leading him to a record-setting deal with Washington. Although Jaylon Johnson said at multiple points last year he wants to stay in Chicago, he likely will not have a choice. The Bears having the tag as leverage would stand to ensure, barring a tag-and-trade scenario, Johnson would play the 2024 season in the Windy City.

Bears GM: CB Jaylon Johnson Not Going Anywhere

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.

NFC North Notes: Bears, CJGJ, Vikings

The last time an NFL team used a franchise tag on a cornerback, the Bears were planning a Jay Cutler-to-Mike Glennon QB transition. Occurring back in 2017, Rams’ second Trumaine Johnson tag remains the most recent instance of a team tagging a corner. Mentioned as a possibility here when the Bears let Jaylon Johnson seek a trade, the contract-year defender being tagged adds up now that Montez Sweat is locked down via an extension. The Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs views it as likely the Bears tag Johnson to give them more time to work out an extension.

Receiving his first Pro Bowl invite this week, Johnson has put together a quality contract season — one he acknowledges has made him more money on his second contract. Johnson said in June he wanted that second accord to be with the Bears and reiterated that stance last month. Although the prospect of reaching free agency would understandably appeal to the former second-round pick, the Bears — the most recent team to use any tag on a cornerback, transition-tagging Kyle Fuller in 2018 — can keep Johnson in the fold via a one-year rental or attempt to hammer out an extension by the July deadline. The cornerback tag is expected to cost just more than $18MM.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • The Bears’ plan to move Cody Whitehair back to center did not take off. Snapping issues plagued the veteran, while Pro Football Focus rates 2022 free agency pickup Lucas Patrick 31st among centers this season. Chicago is expected to pursue a center upgrade this year, Biggs notes, with The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain also predicting the team will aim to stabilize this spot (subscription required). Whitehair, 30, profiles as a cut candidate; he is due a nonguaranteed $10.15MM base salary in his 2024 contract year. Patrick has one game left on a two-year, $8MM deal. The Bears have some wiggle room here, with three starting O-linemen — Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins, Darnell Wright — on rookie contracts. A handful of teams re-signed centers in 2023, but four-year starters Tyler Biadasz (Cowboys) and Lloyd Cushenberry (Broncos) are two months from free agency. Three-year Raiders center Andre James is as well.
  • C.J. Gardner-Johnson‘s return from a torn pec will give the Lions an unexpected boost for their playoff journey. It also could disrupt the team’s secondary. Ifeatu Melifonwu has been effective since usurping Tracy Walker as a starter alongside Kerby Joseph. The Lions initially stationed Gardner-Johnson in the slot, where he previously played under ex-Saints DBs coach Aaron Glenn, but the Lions DC moved him back to safety to accommodate rookie Brian Branch. Glenn said (via the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett) the team is still determining its DB plan but confirmed Branch will remain the team’s slot corner. A safety rotation, then, seems likely to commence. Designated for return from IR last week, Gardner-Johnson is expected to return in Week 18.
  • Danielle Hunter maxed out his incentive package this season, with the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling noting the contract-year Vikings defender collected $3MM by reaching the 14-sack plateau. Positioning himself to do well as a first-time free agent, Hunter has registered a career-high 15.5 sacks. On what could be his final Vikings restructure, the 29-year-old edge rusher received $17MM guaranteed and added $3MM in incentives this season. This latest reworking prevents Hunter from being tagged this year, and the Vikings would be hit with a $14.9MM dead-money charge if they cannot re-sign their top sack artist the 2024 league year.
  • In the strange position of seeing both its top free agents-to-be — Hunter and Kirk Cousins — not profile as tag candidates (due to Cousins having already been tagged twice by Washington), Minnesota has big decisions to make soon. Cousins is at least ahead of schedule on his Achilles rehab odyssey, Goessling adds. Cousins, 35, should be expected back for training camp at the latest and has expressed continued interest in another Vikings contract. If the Vikings cannot re-sign Cousins by March 13 — the last day of the 2023 league year — they will face a $28.5MM dead-money total due to the void years in the leverage maven’s contract.

Jaylon Johnson Aiming To Stay With Bears

Jaylon Johnson has put together one of the best contract years in recent memory. The fourth-year Bears cornerback has placed himself on the radar to become one of the top free agents in 2024, but the sentiment he expressed during this past offseason remains.

The former second-round pick wants to stay with the Bears. The difference from Johnson’s June stance to now: a second contract will be much costlier for the team. The 24-year-old corner has been one of the best cornerbacks in the game this season.

I want to stay here,” Johnson said, via the Chicago Sun-Times’ Jason Lieser. “I definitely want to get something done [here] first, but if something doesn’t get done, I’m not opposed to any other options. I would love to stay here.

“Couldn’t see myself anywhere else. It’s easy to say you want out of somewhere until you get it and then it’s like, ‘Ah, this may not be quite what I want.’”

Since the Bears allowed Johnson to see if a viable trade offer emerged just before the deadline, he has continued to submit a top-flight CB season. Pro Football Focus slots Johnson as this season’s No. 1 cornerback, and Pro-Football-Reference’s coverage metrics indicate the Ryan Pace-era draftee has allowed a paltry 49.7 passer rating as the closest defender in coverage. That number is miles ahead of Johnson’s figures from 2020-22. Teams could conceivably be skeptical of Johnson sustaining this form, but he is well past a “prove it” deal.

Johnson, who has intercepted four passes in 2023, acknowledged he has “definitely added some money” this season. Following Johnson’s eventful deadline day, GM Ryan Poles said the team wants to retain the ascending perimeter corner. The team held out for a first- or second-round pick in exchange. The Bears have already signed off on a big-ticket extension for deadline-day acquisition Montez Sweat, and while Johnson once said it would be an issue if the team extended Sweat before him, that has not ultimately swayed his pro-Chicago stance.

The Bears have paid up for a cornerback’s strong contract year in the recent past. After the team declined Kyle Fuller‘s fifth-year option in 2017, Pace and Co. circled back and transition-tagged him a year later. The Packers submitted Fuller an offer sheet, and the Bears matched it. The Bears may be in position to unholster their franchise tag to keep Johnson, though no team has tagged a corner since the Rams cuffed Trumaine Johnson for a second time back in 2017. OverTheCap projects a 2024 CB tag will come in just north of $18MM. A transition tag is projected to cost more than $15MM, but the Bears would receive no compensation if they did not match an offer sheet. The franchise tag would effectively keep Johnson in Chicago, as teams would not be willing to fork over two first-round picks for an unmatched offer sheet.

Poles already took care of 2020 draftee Cole Kmet, and Darnell Mooney has not enjoyed a good contract year. With Kmet and Sweat signed, Johnson profiles as Chicago’s clear-cut top priority. Even after the Sweat re-up, the Bears are projected to hold the seventh-most cap space (more than $63MM) in 2024. But it will undoubtedly take a monster offer to keep the 6-foot defender off the market. It certainly sounds like Johnson would be amenable to re-signing before free agency, should Poles and Co. view him as a cornerstone piece.

I feel like we’re building something special, too, especially the guys in the locker room,” Johnson said, via ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin. “It’s something that I don’t think I can get anywhere else. I would like to stay in that and continue to build, make it better.”