Shaw Local’s 2023 Chicago Bears report card: Cornerback

Jaylon Johnson, Tyrique Stevenson each had 4 interceptions

Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson intercepts a pass intended for Detroit Lions tight end Sam LaPorta during their game Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

NFL teams can never have enough good, young cornerbacks. That’s the approach the Bears took when they went into the 2023 draft.

The Bears drafted Tyrique Stevenson in the second round and Terell Smith in the fifth round. They added those two rookies to a young core that already included Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon. The cornerback position has quietly become one of the Bears’ biggest strengths.

Here’s a look back at what went well and what didn’t for the Bears at cornerback in 2023.


Chicago Bears cornerback Kyler Gordon celebrates his interception with cornerback Tyrique Stevenson during their game against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Johnson, in his fourth season, played at his highest level yet. He earned a Pro Bowl nod and second-team All-Pro honors. For the first time in his career, the turnovers started coming in bunches. Johnson finished the year with four interceptions and one forced fumble. He also remained elite in coverage. He defended 10 passes, his highest total since his rookie season. With Stevenson playing the other corner spot, it became harder for offenses to avoid throwing near Johnson.

Stevenson’s rookie season was largely a success. He had four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Stevenson proved to be a hard-hitter, just the type of player Bears head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles were looking for. The other rookie, Smith, played a more limited role but did play well when given the opportunity.

Gordon appeared to find his niche as the nickel corner. Playing exclusively in the slot in 2023, Gordon totaled two interceptions and six passes defended. He also had a sack and three tackles for loss.


Johnson exited early in a Week 3 game against the Kansas City Chiefs with a hamstring injury. He did not play the following two games, either. He also missed the season finale because of a shoulder injury. Injuries continue to be a concern for him. In his four years as a pro, he has never played the full schedule.

Gordon missed four games early in the season with a broken hand. The injury occurred in the season opener against Green Bay and set him out for about a month.

Stevenson missed only one game. His physical style of play got him into trouble at times. At one point, he was fined for an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Chiefs.

Defining moments

Chicago Bears fans celebrate with cornerback Jaylon Johnson after his second interception during their game against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

1. Two picks: Johnson had gone two full years without an interception before snagging two in an October win over the Raiders. He returned one for a touchdown and was emotional on the sideline afterward. For Johnson, takeaways were a missing component on his resume. The two picks against Las Vegas opened up the conversations about a contract extension.

2. The trade deadline: A week later, Poles met with Johnson’s representatives when the Bears were in Los Angeles to face the Chargers. Poles left the meeting feeling that the two sides made some progress. He said he was surprised come Monday morning when Johnson’s camp asked to seek a trade.

Poles allowed them to, but no trade ultimately emerged. Johnson played out the remainder of his contract with the Bears. A strong end to the season may have earned him more money, too.

3. Rookie’s moment: Like most rookie corners, Stevenson started the year off slowly. But a Week 11 game in Detroit proved to be his coming out party. Stevenson intercepted a pass against Lions quarterback Jared Goff and forced a fumble on special teams. They were the first takeaways of his career.

Contract status

Johnson is set to become a free agent. Gordon has two years remaining on his contract. Stevenson and Smith have three years on their deals. Special teams ace Josh Blackwell is an exclusive rights free agent. Jaylon Jones is under contract for one more season.

Shaw Local grade: B+

This group was playing at a high level by the end of the year. They were docked for their early-season performance and some minor injury troubles, but overall there’s a lot to be excited about here.


Order of business No. 1 is to sign Johnson to a long-term extension. But Poles isn’t going to give in to whatever Johnson wants. As we explored here, Johnson is likely worth more than $20 million per year on the open market. That’s a hefty sum.

If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, the Bears almost certainly will use the franchise tag on Johnson. That would keep him under team control on a one-year contract for the 2024 season. The price tag for a cornerback on the franchise tag in 2024 is expected to be $18.4 million.

The Bears should feel good about what they have with Johnson, Stevenson and Gordon in the starting lineup. Smith is a quality backup who appears ready to fill in whenever needed. There’s no reason to mess with this group right now.

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.