Following a team with a 3-10 record makes it hard to lose sight of individuals having a good run.
But I am trying my darndest not to fall into that trap.
Hence, my infatuation with Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson being on a roll right now.
Even though Chicago’s defense is struggling, Johnson’s cornerback play helps it from being a total disaster. Packers quarterback (and long-time Bears tormentor) Aaron Rodgers acknowledged as much after the most recent edition of Bears-Packers. That’s when Rodgers gave Johnson a ringing endorsement after another win by That Team in Wisconsin.
Since then, Johnson has earned the Bears’ nomination for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award and honorary captain status for Sunday’s upcoming game against the Eagles. When you’re hot, you’re hot. And Johnson is the best thing smokin’ on the Bears defense.
Unless you’re obsessively watching the reverse standings, the final four games of the regular season don’t mean much. But don’t tell that to players who suit up on Sunday. Because for many of them, every game is an opportunity to put high-quality tape out there. The type of tape that will help them continue collecting paychecks in the coming years. In that vein, Johnson is one of those players who could parlay a strong finish to the season into an extension. The Bears have money to spend (they’re more than $100M under the cap) and really can’t stand to lose a key member of their secondary. Simply put, getting the ball rolling in discussing a Johnson extension makes sense.
Johnson, a second-round pick in 2020, is one of four notable third-year players on the Bears who are still on their rookie deal and eligible for an extension as soon as this season ends. Patrick explored what might go into extending tight end Cole Kmet’s deal in the wake of his breakout season. There were whispers of a Darnell Mooney extension earlier this season, and it is something we’ve been kicking around since the receiver market exploded this past offseason. Considering his limited reps with the team, it is probably too early to go down the rabbit hole on a Chase Claypool extension, but extending him is something that we’ll likely debate at some point if his performance merits the discussion. But for now, it is time to start considering what a Johnson extension might look like. Especially since it can come as early as this offseason.
There were four notable extensions given to cornerbacks last offseason:
- Denzel Ward, Browns – 5 years, $100.5 million with $71.25M in total guarantees and $44.5M guaranteed at signing
- Xavien Howard, Dolphins – 5 years, $90 million with $36.3M in total guarantees and $36.3M guaranteed at signing
- Jaire Alexander, Packers – 4 years, $84 million with $30M in total guarantees and $30M guaranteed at signing
- Carlton Davis, Buccaneers – 3 years, $44.5 million with $30M in total guarantees and $24.5M guaranteed at signing.
With all due respect to Johnson, I don’t believe he’ll reach the heights of the Alexander, Howard, or Ward extensions. That trio of corners is on a tier above where Johnson has been in his career. That’s no knock on Jaylon, mind you. It’s just me trying to thread the needle in this discussion. Although, that Davis deal looks like it could be a comparison worth exploring.
Davis signed his extension after his rookie deal’s fourth (and final) year. The total value ($44.5M), AAV ($14.83M), and guarantees ($30M total) rank 11th, 11th, and 14th among corners. In other words, Davis is at the top of a secondary tier of cornerbacks who have recently gotten paid. And, frankly, that is good company to keep in terms of what a future extension could look like.
The last time the Bears were weighing the possibility of extending a home-grown cornerback was 2018 with Kyle Fuller. If you’ll recall, the Bears gave Fuller the Transition Tag to keep him from fully exploring the market as an unrestricted free agent. From there, the Packers signed Fuller to a four-year, $56 million offer sheet that included an $18 million signing bonus and $20 million paid out in the contract’s first year. But the Bears ultimately matched the offer sheet, keeping Fuller in Chicago. In the end, Fuller put up two Pro Bowl seasons and a first-team All-Pro nod in the first two years of the extension.
Fuller was good in Year three, too, before being cut in 2021 as part of a cap-clearing purge. But if the Bears can get production from Johnson similar to what they got from Fuller, then I doubt anyone will think twice about handing over an extension.
Even still … we probably have some time before we dive into the nitty gritty of extending Johnson. And so do the Bears, for that matter. This front office has money to spend and holes to fill. But it also needs to figure out if Johnson — a holdover from the previous regime — is someone worth keeping around. Nevertheless, the possibility of a Johnson extension is something that should be on our radar. Especially if he finishes this season on a high note.