LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- When Matt Eberflus arrived last offseason, he made it clear that while cornerback Jaylon Johnson was talented, he needed to see some things from the cornerback before making a determination about his long-term fit with the Bears.
"Jaylon, you know, a young player, is still a work in progress," Eberflus said in May of 2022. "He's got some things he's got to work on just like all the rest of those guys that are 2nd and 3rd-year players, they've all got to work on stuff. Just ah, just keep working, and we'll see where he goes.
"I've got to see time on task, I've got to see the guy cover, I've got to see how he takes his angles, you know how he plays on the ball, I've got to see all those things before we're going to start diving into the details of that, coaching him."
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Sixteen months later, Johnson is in a contract year and hopes to be a Bear for a long time. After watching Johnson work for a year and a half, Eberflus has a firm grasp of who Johnson is as an NFL corner and how he works in his system.
"He's done everything we've asked," Eberflus said Monday at Halas Hall. "He's been really good in training camp. He's worked every single day during that process. He's worked his craft. You know he's done a really good job of improving his craft. You know he's always been really good in terms of being sticky at the top of routes and being able to close distances and make plays on the ball. Now he's starting to make those interceptions, which is positive right. Obviously getting takeaways is a big thing, so ... and the tackling is better. You know there is no house guests on our defense, so everybody tackles. We'll be a good tackling team when our corners tackle and he's done a good job of that."
The fourth-year cornerback hopes to stay with the Bears long-term but made it clear after Sunday's two-interception game that he's willing to play for whichever team values his services the most.
"I've been wanting to get to the table," Johnson said after the 30-12 win over the Las Vegas Raiders at Soldier Field. "At the end of the day, I know who I am, and I know I can play this game at a high level. I feel like I deserve to be paid like that.
"I'm taking that attitude to any team. Any and everybody in the NFL. It's with the Bears, then I'll do that. If it's with anybody else, for sure. ... I'm one of those guys that can be paid at a high level."
Johnson made a statement Sunday when he picked off Raiders quarterback Aidan O'Connell and took it back 39 yards for a game-sealing pick-six. After racing into the end zone, Johnson went over to the television cameras and "made it rain."
Johnson didn't pull punches when asked if that was a message to the Bears and/or the rest of the NFL as his contract year winds down.
"You damn right," Johnson said. "100 percent."
Johnson and the Bears have made little progress in extension talks. The Bears drafted cornerbacks Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith this past April, giving them young talent to replace Johnson should he walk.
Eberflus didn't want to wade into the contract negotiation waters Monday when asked if Johnson should be paid as a top-level corner.
“Obviously, I’m not going to talk about money with contracts," Eberflus said. "But I’ve always enjoyed seeing those guys get what they are due. All the guys that I have coached and had produce, and a lot of guys at a high level, it’s good to see that when it happens. I’m always happy for them and their families when it happens. But that’s all I’m really going to say about it. Again, I’m not going to get into the negotiations of all those things. That’s between him and Ryan. We’ll see where it goes.”
Per Pro Football Focus, Johnson has allowed just 10 catches for 111 yards and zero touchdowns this season. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 43.5 percent of passes against Johnson and have a passer rating of 22.2.
General manager Ryan Poles has shown that he is unlikely to exceed the mark at which he values a player. Letting David Montgomery walk and trading Roquan Smith were defensible decisions.
But letting a 24-year-old emerging star cornerback leave is different. It's typically not good business in the NFL to lose young talent at a premium position for nothing.
Jaylon Johnson has proven his worth both to the Bears and Eberflus with hard work, constant buy-in, and sticky coverage. The Bears should reward him for that while they still have the chance.