NFL combine: Ryan Poles remains hopeful Chicago Bears will resign Jaylon Johnson

Poles: ‘I’d like to avoid the franchise tag’

Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson comes off the field after his first of two interceptions, a pick six, during their game against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

INDIANAPOLIS – Bears general manager Ryan Poles believes he and his team have come to the negotiating table with a “strong” offer for cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

The Bears have one week to decide if they will use the franchise tag on the 24-year-old cornerback. That gives them one week to come to an agreement on a long-term contract. Johnson, who is eligible to become a free agent in March, almost certainly will remain under contract with the Bears in 2024. The question is whether that will be with a new multiyear contract or through the franchise tag.

Poles is optimistic that a long-term deal will happen. He would much prefer it, too.

“I’d like to avoid the franchise tag for him,” Poles said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I think there is really good space for us to find the middle ground. Again, we always have the tag to use, but I really would like to get something done long term.”

Avoiding the franchise tag would be preferable for both sides. The franchise tag for a cornerback would cost the Bears $19.8 million in 2024 and be fully guaranteed. If Johnson signs a multiyear deal, even if it’s north of $20 million per year, the Bears can push some of the salary cap hit into future years when the cap, presumably, will be higher.

Four months ago, Johnson and the Bears couldn’t come to an agreement on a new contract before the trade deadline. The Bears allowed Johnson to seek a trade, but no deal ultimately emerged. Instead, Johnson played out the final year of his rookie contract.

It probably worked out in Johnson’s favor. The lone question on his resume was whether he could create enough turnovers to warrant big money. He ended the year strong and finished the season with four interceptions and one forced fumble. That likely put him in the conversation to be one of the highest-paid corners in the league.

“We feel like we’ve done a really good job coming to the table strong and showing the respect that he’s due just in terms of his production through his career and really an emphasis on the turnovers he created this past year,” Poles said. “Our expectation is that’s going to continue to go as he’s with the Bears. When I say come strong, that means cash flows are strong, guarantees are strong, the term is strong for him.”

We feel like we’ve done a really good job coming to the table strong and showing the respect that he’s due just in terms of his production through his career and really an emphasis on the turnovers he created this past year.”

—  Ryan Poles, Bears general manager

The Bears were asking for turnovers, and Johnson delivered in 2023.

“I’m so proud of Jaylon, the way he improved in the way he took the challenge to be a ball guy, and he certainly did that,” head coach Matt Eberflus said Tuesday. “He’s a great leader not only in our defensive back room but in our whole defensive room, too. He’s really starting to become a really good leader on our football team.”

Poles has been in this situation a few times now since taking over as general manager in January 2022. That year – much like right now with Johnson – he felt really good about his offer to linebacker Roquan Smith.

“There’s record-setting pieces of this contract that I thought was going to show him the respect that he deserves,” Poles said in August 2022, hours after Smith requested a trade.

Smith ultimately decided to play the 2022 season, and the Bears traded him near the trade deadline. That saga further illustrates that it takes two sides to make a deal. On the flip side, Poles had a relatively painless time finding common ground with tight end Cole Kmet, who signed a four-year, $50 million extension last summer.

Poles also felt good about the progress he and Johnson’s camp made before the trade deadline last fall. At the time, the GM said he felt a little bit blindsided by the trade request. The key will be whether both sides can avoid any hurt feelings this time around.

Johnson wants to remain with the Bears. He reiterated as much in a podcast appearance last month.

“Like I’ve said about those deals – all the time – it takes two to tango, and you’ve got to find a place that everyone feels comfortable with,” Poles said.

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.