Will Jaylon Johnson become NFL’s highest-paid cornerback?

Will Jaylon Johnson become NFL’s highest-paid cornerback?

by - Correspondent -

CHICAGO - There are a lot of unknowns for the Bears going into the offseason. Among all of the unknowns, one thing that is not a question is Chicago needs to finalize a deal with Pro Bowl cornerback Jaylon Johnson who is set to become a free agent.

Johnson has always been a good cornerback for the Bears. He tried to get a deal done during the season, but that did not quite work out. He requested a trade, but no trade occurred. Chicago traded for edge rusher Montez Sweat and then gave him a long-term contract, but still Johnson did not receive his contract. Perhaps the Bears just needed to see that Johnson could take that next step and become more of a ball-hawk. He delivered with a season total of four interceptions, the seventh-most out of any player in the league, and getting his first Pro Bowl nomination.

One important reason the Bears need to get this contract done is because, as they are trying to build a strong team, it is important to keep talented players like Johnson around as the building blocks of this franchise. Chicago has many young players on rookie contracts going into next season; that should include their quarterback, which is key for their strategic spending this offseason and for planning ahead to future seasons.

With that said Johnson is looking to become the highest-paid cornerback in the league. That title currently belongs to Jalen Ramsey, who made $25.5 million this past season. Even with the increase in interceptions from Johnson, his career is not comparable to Ramsey’s. Ramsey, for starters, is a more seasoned player as he is going into his ninth season next year; he also has 12 interceptions over the last four years, whereas Johnson has five. Ramsey has been to the Pro Bowl for the last seven years and was an All-Pro in 2017, 2020, and 2021. All of those accolades are something that Johnson is lacking. He may want to become the highest-paid cornerback in the league, but that does not seem likely, given the statistical difference between the current highest-paid corner and him.

Right now, Johnson is still on his rookie contract from when the Bears drafted him in the second round back in 2020. For a cornerback of his caliber, he makes surprisingly little money, netting just under three million dollars this past season. Particularly with the season he put up, it makes perfect sense that he wants to get paid. It cannot be lost that Johnson is first and foremost a father, and he has a little girl he needs to support too. While emotional considerations such as this are probably not a deciding factor for Chicago, they need to recognize this is at the front of Johnson’s mind during contract negotiations.

I’d imagine another thing at the front of his mind is what fellow cornerbacks are making. According to Spotrac, Marlon Humphrey and Denzel Ward are players whose performance can be compared to Johnson’s, and both of them received five-year contracts when they were 24, which will be Johnson’s age when this deal is done. Both Humphrey and Ward made almost $20 million a year.

While a $20 million-a-year contract sounds like a lot, it is something the Bears could potentially afford. Currently, they have slightly over $50 million left in cap space. Johnson’s contract would take a huge chunk of that, but they could always structure the contract so he makes less in the first year or two of the contract and makes more in the last three years. That way, it is both team-friendly and gives respect to Johnson for his performance in his first four seasons in Chicago.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles has a really good feeling that he can get something done with Johnson.

“We have really good communication,” Poles said recently. “The big thing was just kind of take a break here after the season, and then we’ll start talks again. I feel really good about that situation. Jaylon’s not going to go anywhere, and we’ll work through it to get something done.”

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