Is Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson worth $20 million per year? Here’s what the numbers suggest

What might a Jaylon Johnson contract extension look like?

Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson wraps up Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner during their game Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles has a loaded to-do list this offseason. The No. 1 job was to find the right offensive coordinator for head coach Matt Eberflus.

The Bears did that. They hired former Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. Next, the team will look toward finding a defensive coordinator who can mesh well with Eberflus and his already established defensive staff.

At that point, Poles can begin to turn his attention toward building his roster. Free agency looms in mid-March. Before that, Poles and his staff will have to decide what to do with cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

Johnson just finished the final year of his rookie contract. He will become a free agent in March unless he and the Bears can agree to a contract extension. If they can’t, the Bears could use the franchise tag on him. Teams must decide if they will use the franchise tag by March 5. A cornerback will cost approximately $18.4 million on the franchise tag in 2024.

In his end of season news conference earlier this month, Poles made it clear how he felt about Johnson.

“Jaylon’s not going to go anywhere,” he said.

Jaylon’s not going to go anywhere.”

—  Ryan Poles, Bears general manager

He added that he feels “really good about that situation.”

Below is a look at what a contract extension might cost for Johnson, with some comparisons to recent cornerback contracts across the NFL. Stats are according to Pro Football Reference.

PlayerSecond contractPer year averageAge (at time of extension)Games missedInterceptionsForced fumblesPasses defended per seasonCompletion percentage against
Jaylon Johnson??????2414 (four seasons)5310.357.5%
Trevon Diggsfive years, $97 million ($42.3 million guaranteed)$19.4 million245 (three seasons)17116.357%
Jaire Alexanderfour years, $84 million ($30 million guaranteed)$21 million2517 (four seasons)521156.4%
Denzel Wardfive years, $100.5 million ($71.25 million guaranteed)$20.1 million2413 (four seasons)10212.553.3%
Jalen Ramseyfive years, $105 million ($71.2 million guaranteed)$20 million254 (four seasons)10312.3*58.6%
Marshon Lattimorefive years, $97.6 million ($68.3 million guaranteed)$19.5 million257 (four seasons)10513.8*55.9%

* – Pro Football Reference did not track completion percentage against until 2018. Ramsey’s figure accounts for only 2018 and 2019, prior to signing his extension ahead of the 2020 season. Lattimore’s percentage does not include his rookie season in 2017.

Some notes

  • Cleveland’s Denzel Ward currently holds the record for the largest overall contract for an NFL cornerback and the most guaranteed money. Green Bay’s Jaire Alexander has the highest per-season average in NFL history, but he is the only player on this list who didn’t receive a fifth year on his contract.
  • Dallas’ Trevon Diggs is the most recent mega deal on the cornerback market. Diggs and the Cowboys agreed to a deal in July 2023. His numbers were buoyed by a remarkable 11-interception season in 2021.
  • Alexander, Ward and Jalen Ramsey are the only three NFL cornerbacks currently making $20 million or more on a per-season basis.

What the numbers indicate

Johnson’s production is eerily similar to Alexander’s. His injury history is also somewhat similar to Alexander’s. The Packers signed Alexander to his extension in May 2022, after Alexander missed the final 12 games of the 2021 regular season with a shoulder injury.

Up to that point, Alexander had created seven turnovers (five interceptions, two forced fumbles) in four seasons. Johnson has done one better with eight (five interceptions, three forced fumbles). Their completion percentage against was similar. Alexander, like Johnson, had one second-team All-Pro season before he signed his deal.

Johnson doesn’t have as many takeaways as Ramsey, Ward or New Orleans’ Marshon Lattimore at the time of their extensions. Those three hold the three largest cornerback contracts in NFL history by total value. As noted before, Diggs’ interception numbers were off the charts. Still, it didn’t lead to a record-setting contract. Diggs is pretty unique because he’s somewhat of a boom or bust player. That’s why teams keep throwing his way, despite the interception numbers.

Johnson is elite in coverage and doesn’t gamble often. Prior to this season, the takeaway numbers were severely lacking. That’s why a deal didn’t get done prior to the trade deadline. With four interceptions in 2023, Johnson has changed that narrative.

Wear and tear

Johnson missed three games in 2023 – two due to a hamstring injury and one due to a shoulder injury. He has a history of shoulder injuries dating back to college. He previously had surgery on both shoulders. His most recent injury, which caused him to miss the season finale, did not appear to need surgery. A year earlier, Johnson missed six total games due to quad, oblique, rib and finger injuries.

Johnson has never played a full season. His rookie season in 2020 also ended with a shoulder injury. The injuries are a legitimate concern. As mentioned earlier, Alexander also missed time with a significant shoulder injury and still earned a big contract. Ward missed 13 games over his first four seasons and still got paid.

So while Johnson’s shoulders might be a concern, they’re not going to keep him from earning top dollar.

Why it’s a good fit

Johnson did everything the Bears asked him to do last season. He took the ball away. He earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Johnson recently went on Keyshawn Johnson’s podcast and said he felt he could reset the cornerback market.

“I feel like there’s no reason why I can’t be the highest-paid corner in the league,” Johnson said. “I feel like that’s what I’m aiming for, that’s what I’m shooting for.”

Looking at the comparison to his contemporaries above, Johnson should be asking for $20 million per year. Per, the Bears currently have $46.9 million in salary cap space in 2024. They can add an additional $9 million by cutting guard Cody Whitehair, who finished the season as a backup. Poles has set up his roster well to absorb big cap hits in 2025 and beyond.

The Bears aren’t going to let Johnson hit free agency. Poles has the franchise tag in his back pocket. But it sure looks like it will be hard to sign Johnson at a discount. The cornerback bet on himself, and it’s going to pay off handsomely.

A deal similar to Alexander’s seems plausible. Johnson seems likely to become a $20 million-per-year corner. The only remaining question seems to be this: Will he reset the cornerback market?

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.