The 2023 season for the Chicago Bears should be an interesting one. No team probably has a larger swing of reasonable potential outcomes this season than Chicago. A lot of that is going to depend on the performance of these key players that have a lot to prove. Thus far we’ve discussed Trevis Gipson, Kindle Vildor, Darnell Mooney, Cody Whitehair, Braxton Jones and Velus Jones. We’ve reached number four as we continue to countdown the 10 Bears with the most to prove.
4. Jaylon Johnson
Jaylon Johnson has already established himself as a solid cornerback in the NFL, nobody is disputing that. But Jaylon Johnson is going to be playing this year to try to prove that he’s an elite cornerback and that’s going to take one heck of a season.
Ryan Poles has indicated that he would like to keep Jaylon Johnson around and why wouldn’t he? Jaylon has proved that quarterbacks would rather throw in directions other than his and when he’s on the field, he rarely has issues neutralizing his man.
Johnson frequently takes the more difficult wide receiver assignment and only averages giving up about 44 passing yards a game with a completion percentage against below 60%. But Johnson has been burned for 11 touchdowns over the course of his three seasons (although only one last season) and he doesn’t create turnovers, with just one interception over that span as well. He’s also missed 11 games.
Ryan Poles most likely looks at Johnson as a dynamic CB2 and is willing to pay him strong CB2 money. But most likely, Jaylon Johnson looks at himself as a CB1 and is going to want to be paid CB1 money. The difference could be about $7 to 10 million a season. That’s why it’s my belief that the Bears and Johnson will have extension talks this offseason, but most likely they’ll be having those discussions again in January and February as they probably won’t come to an agreement before week one against Green Bay.
That’s going to make this season a huge one for Johnson. If he wants the Bears to see him as a shutdown corner, he’s going to have to prove he’s exactly that. He’s going to have to stay on the field for at last 15 games this year and he’s going to have to cause a few turnovers while continuing to frustrate and neutralize the best receivers in the game.
That won’t be easy, but Johnson has the ability to do it. He’s going to need the defensive line up front to create some pressure because if Johnson continues to draw the difficult assignments, he’s not going to remain sticky in coverage for 5 or 6 seconds, he’s going to need some help up front.
Pro Football Focus recently put out their top 32 cornerbacks for 2023 and Jaylon Johnson was not among them. If Jaylon wants to be paid like an elite cornerback, he needs to not only change the way the Bears see him, but the way the rest of the NFL does as well because if he wants a high-dollar contract, he needs leverage and needs to create a market for himself.
The way the NFL has paid cornerbacks lately, you are either paid like a shutdown cornerback, with a salary around $20 million a year. Or you are paid like a CB2 with a salary of about $10 to $13 million a year.
If Johnson and the Bears come to an agreement this offseason, obviously this becomes far less of a critical year for him. But odds are the Bears are going to be seeking to pay Jaylon in the ballpark of $12 or $13 million a year and Jaylon is going to be looking for $18 to $20 million a year. That’s going to keep them at odds this offseason and put Jaylon playing for a contract in 2023.
If he wants to be paid like an elite corner, he needs to prove it this season and that’s why this year is a critical year for Johnson as he puts it all on the line to prove to Ryan Poles and the rest of the NFL that he’s an elite cornerback and should be paid like one.