Cornerback Jaylon Johnson ‘not just gonna take anything’ Chicago Bears offer

GM Ryan Poles said he was surprised by trade request

Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson advances a fumble recovery during the first half against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Atlanta.

LAKE FOREST – Bears general manager Ryan Poles met with Jaylon Johnson’s representatives over the weekend in Los Angeles. Both sides previously had exchanged offers over email, but as the trade deadline approached, Poles wanted to talk in person.

The two sides had “really good meetings” over the weekend, Poles said. He left Los Angeles feeling optimistic that, despite being on different pages, it was possible to bridge the gap. In his mind, neither side had made a “final offer.”

“We negotiate through, just like anything you guys have done it, you go back and forth a couple steps,” Poles said during a media session Wednesday at Halas Hall. “There was only a few steps. No one was final. Does that make sense? I don’t know what the gap is.”

That’s why Poles felt so surprised when Johnson and his side asked for a trade earlier this week, with Tuesday’s trade deadline fast approaching. Poles does not want to lose Johnson, but he said he respects the player and the person enough that he allowed him to seek trade partners.

Ultimately, Johnson wasn’t traded. Poles indicated Wednesday that he wouldn’t trade Johnson unless he felt he could find another Johnson in return. To him, the asking price was a late first-round pick or an early second-round pick. Such a deal never emerged.

In Johnson’s eyes, nothing has changed. The 24-year-old cornerback still wants to be paid. He will play out the final nine games of his contract, which ends after this season.

“There’s a difference between talking and trying to work things out versus trying to get things done,” Johnson said Wednesday. “Up until this weekend, nothing was done. I figured I wanted some different opportunities to see what else was out there for me.”

Instead, the Bears traded for Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat. This 2-6 football team was buying, rather than selling, at the trade deadline. Poles said that was in line with his general philosophy “to add really good football players.”

Sweat almost certainly would not have been available in free agency next spring. The Commanders had several other offers on the table. Atlanta reportedly made a strong push for Sweat, who is from Georgia. Whichever team traded for Sweat was going to make an effort to sign him to a new contract.

That’s exactly what the Bears are doing now. Poles said Wednesday that a contract extension with Sweat is in the works.

“You look at the draft potential [next year] – our guys have been doing a really good job getting information in – as well as free agency,” Poles said. “We felt like this was a really good opportunity to get ahead of that and get a top pass rusher in the building.”

Although Sweat could be close to a big-money extension with the Bears, Johnson’s future remains cloudy.

Johnson said he wants to remain with the team and that he’s not looking for a record-setting contract. At the same time, he said he feels that he is “the best corner in the game right now.”

It’s still possible he and the Bears reach an agreement between now and March, but that doesn’t feel all that likely at this point. Johnson, who has a young daughter, wants to set up himself and his family for the future. That has always been his No. 1 concern.

“I play for God, and I play for myself first,” Johnson said Wednesday. “None of those aren’t going to change. The Bears, I’m always thankful and [have] gratitude, but I play for something bigger than just the C on my helmet. I play for God, I play for myself, I play for my family. With that comes, of course, playing for and representing my organization. So my passion, my fire for the game, isn’t going to change over a contract, a lack of trade.”

I play for God and I play for myself first. None of those aren’t going to change. The Bears, I’m always thankful and [have] gratitude but I play for something bigger than just the C on my helmet.

—  Jaylon Johnson, Bears cornerback

Top NFL cornerbacks are paid anywhere from $15 million to $20 million per season. Johnson has made about $5.7 million over the course of his first contract. A new contract likely would dwarf his previous earnings.

Free agency, of course, remains a long way away. In their back pocket, the Bears are holding onto the possibility of using the franchise tag. NFL teams can use the tag to force one player to remain with the team for another season. This season, a cornerback on the franchise tag cost $18.1 million on a one-year deal. That number should rise slightly next season.

Johnson said he has respect for Poles. He acknowledged that it isn’t personal. Poles has bosses that he has to answer to, too.

“I’m not asking to change the market or break records,” Johnson said. “I’m not asking for that, but I’m also not just gonna take anything.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.