Jaylon Johnson

Chicago Bears CB Jaylon Johnson dishes on contract negotiations and why he won't hold out

The Bears No. 1 cornerback was frank when discussing his potential new contract

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The Bears signed Cole Kmet to a long-term deal earlier this week, and when looking at the list of players who could earn a new contract next, Jaylon Johnson stands out. The shutdown corner is playing on the last year of his rookie contract and has been vocal about wanting an extension as soon as possible. On Friday, Johnson addressed the media for the first time during training camp, and while he didn’t provide an extensive update on how negotiations are going, he did say he’s in a good position.

“God willing I can be a Chicago Bear and we figure out a deal to get something done here, because that's what I want to do,” Johnson said. “We'll see what happens at the end of the day.”

When Johnson didn’t report to the first set of OTAs this offseason, there was speculation that he was unhappy and may potentially hold out for a new dealー despite the fact that OTAs are purely voluntary. Johnson refuted those rumors when he showed up later in the summer, explaining that he was doing charity work with his foundation Kevvy’s Vision and hanging out with his daughter, since family time is hard to come by once training camp begins.

Still, speculation persisted that contract negotiations between the Bears and Johnson could lead to discomfort or a training camp holdout. But Johnson is present at Halas Hall, participating fully in practice. It’s something the Bears appreciate, since “hold-ins” have become popular lately. It’s a tactic the Bears saw first hand last season when Roquan Smith reported to camp, yet didn’t participate in practice to protect his body.

Johnson is uninterested in negotiating tactics like “hold-ins” or anything like that.

“The way I see it, I still got a lot to earn,” Johnson said. “I feel like I still have a lot to prove. It's not like I'm just this person who has been first team All-Pro three years in a row and don't have a contract. I've definitely got some more things to prove.”

The No. 1 thing Johnson needs to prove is that he can take the ball away at a rate his coaches want. Johnson has more than earned his reputation as a top-flight cornerback in pass coverage. There were entire games last season when Johnson wouldn’t be targeted because of his sticky coverage on an opponent’s WR1. Yet, in three seasons he’s only notched one interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The Bears are looking for that kind of production in one year, not three.

Johnson believes his style of aggressive play, and not being the recipient of lucky tipped passes have contributed to his low takeaway numbers, but he knows he can make some changes to create more opportunities, too.

“There’s certain ways to do it. It’s not just about going out there and playing stupid and just taking risks and things like that. If it’s something where I have to make sure that I’m preparing myself to play more off-man, then I mean, shoot, I can lock a guy down playing off-man as well. And if I have to do better in my zone coverages and reading concepts and things like that, then I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do to be able to put myself in positions. I think that’s something I’m looking forward to doing in Year 4.

“At the end of the day, I can’t just not change what I’m doing and expect for results to be different. For me, it’s just about finding that adjustment that I’m comfortable with.”

The key for Johnson is staying true to himself while expanding his game. That’s why he’s not comparing himself to Trevon Diggs in contract negotiations. Diggs is known for being a boom or bust corner with astronomical interception numbers. Diggs and the Cowboys agreed to an enormous five-year, $97 million extension earlier this week. Some thought that Diggs commanding a contract like that might move the market enough to price Johnson out of the Bears’ comfort level.

“Nah, we're in two totally different ball games,” Johnson said. “He's an All-Pro, 15, 17 picks in three years. He's done some really good things. Hats off to him and congrats to him.”

Johnson made it clear however, that just because he admits Diggs is in a different “ballgame” when it comes to contract talks doesn’t mean he sees himself as a second-rate player.

“I’m still gonna go out here and lock them cats up. No. Don’t get my tone for that. But I do know I don’t have the accolades. My accolades and my ability don’t match up by any means. I definitely have All-Pro talent, for sure. I have Pro Bowl talent. I go out there and lock those guys up. So that’s not where my confidence is at. I’m a reality guy and I can look on the All-Pro list, and I ain’t on there. But I still believe in myself 100%.”

Johnson prefers to have a deal done ASAP, rather than trying to put together a year filled with interceptions and then negotiating. If a deal doesn’t get done before Week 1, he won’t hold back.

“I'm looking forward to playing. At the end of the day, I feel like we got a really good team, so I'm looking forward to winning. I haven't had a winning season since I've been here. So I'm going to go in it with the roster that we got, and we're going to rock out and win some ball games.”

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