Jaylon Johnson

Bears' Jaylon Johnson contract extension massive win on multiple fronts

Jaylon Johnson's extension is further proof of the bright future that awaits the Bears

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In the end, Jaylon Johnson was franchise-tagged for 48 hours before his camp, and Bears general manager Ryan Poles found common ground on a contract extension.

On Thursday, the Bears and Johnson agreed to a four-year contract extension worth $76 million with $54 million in guaranteed money.

The extension ends a needlessly long negotiation and is a win-win deal for Johnson and the Bears.

For Johnson, he gets the top-dollar deal he coveted after earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors this past season. Johnson's deal doesn't make him the highest-paid corner per annual average value or total guaranteed money. However, the $43.8 million that is fully guaranteed at signing is 57.5 percent of Johnson's contract, which is first among cornerbacks. The $43.8 million guaranteed at signing also eclipses the $43.7 million guaranteed to Jalen Ramsey when he signed his five-year, $100 million deal.

The Bears opted to give a little bit on the four-year extension to keep the value of Johnson's deal down ($19 million AAV), allowing Johnson to hit the market again at 28 years old for one more big payday.

Johnson's extension now gives the Bears a foundational piece locked up long-term at each level of the defense. Defensive end Montez Sweat agreed to a four-year extension last November, and the Bears signed linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to a four-year deal last March.

The Bears' defense came on during the final two months of the regular season, and there is genuine belief in the locker room that the group's core can be special next season.

Johnson is a big part of that belief. The 24-year-old was one of the best cover corners in the NFL last season. Per Pro Football Focus, Johnson allowed just 25 catches for 195 yards and one touchdown last season. He notched four interceptions and led the NFL in passer rating allowed when targeted at 33.3. In single coverage, Johnson allowed just seven catches on 20 targets for 83 yards.

In using the franchise tag as a placeholder and not a leverage tool, Poles and the Bears show they will reward players who do everything they ask, whether they drafted them or not. They did it with tight end Cole Kmet, and now they've done it with Johnson.

That sends a strong message to a young locker room filled with players the Bears hope to keep around for a long time.

Assuming the cap hit for 2024 is around $19 million, Johnson's extension allows the Bears to keep their options open when free agency begins next Wednesday. With $45 million in expected cap space, the Bears have several different avenues to travel, including taking a swing on a big-name defender like Christian Wilkins or Danielle Hunter to round out their ascending defense.

But more importantly, Poles locking up Johnson and cementing him as a long-term foundational piece of this rebuild further proves that the Bears' window to contend will start to open in 2025. The Bears have built a strong foundation with star players either just entering or about to enter their prime. Sweat is 27 years old, and he's the oldest of the foundational core. Johnson (24), Edmunds (25), DJ Moore (26), and Kmet (24) are all on the cusp of their best football years. Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon are 24, while Tyrique Stevenson is 23.

The Bears are young, talented, and hungry and appear headed toward drafting a potentially "generational" talent at quarterback in 22-year-old Caleb Williams.

The green arrow is pointing straight up for the Bears. In locking down Johnson, Poles gave the Bears their first big win of the offseason and offered further proof of how bright the future is for a franchise that has spent the better part of three decades mired in mediocrity or worse.

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