The tension between the Bears and top cornerback Jaylon Johnson took a concerning turn late Monday, but agent Chris Ellison said he had no comment on an ESPN report indicating Johnson requested a trade and was given permission to negotiate with other teams in search of the contract extension he has been seeking this year.
The trade deadline is Tuesday at 3 p.m., so if Johnson can’t find the right trade partner for the Bears — both in terms of meeting his contract demands and satisfying what general manager Ryan Poles wants in return for him — he almost certainly will finish the season with the team.
Johnson is in the final season of his rookie deal and said he hoped to have an extension in place before the season began. When it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, he said he was content to play out his contract with the Bears.
As it got closer to the trade deadline, though, the uncertainty mounted for Johnson. When the Bears hosted the Raiders on Oct. 22, he said he thought there was chance it was his last home game as a Bear.
Poles has talked about Johnson, 24, as a building block and said Sunday, “Everybody wants respect, but … can the team and the player find common ground that makes sense all the way around? We want to retain homegrown talent… but it takes two sides to make something happen.”
Johnson said Monday on his weekly appearance on The Score that neither he nor the organization had taken “a hard stance” in contract talks.
“We’re going to see if something gets done by the trade deadline,” he said last week at Halas Hall. “If I happen to get traded, I get traded; if not, then I get extended, hopefully. And if not, then I’ve just got to continue to play. There’s plenty of options that this can go in… I’m waiting to see as well.”
The Bears are projected to have an NFL-high $110.1 million in salary-cap space next season, according to OverTheCap, and have minimal cap space committed to existing contracts for 2025 and ‘26.
Johnson’s four-year rookie deal pays him $3 million this season. The 21 highest-paid cornerbacks are making at least $10 million per season, and it would take a deal averaging at least $14.9 million per season to put Johnson in the top 10.
Poles dealt a proven young player in a similar situation a year ago. When he and star linebacker Roquan Smith saw no path to a contract extension, he traded Smith to the Ravens for a second-round pick. Smith had asked for a trade in training camp.
Smith was an All-Pro for the Ravens last season, and they met his five-year, $100 million contract demand. He’s having another spectacular season and is fourth in the NFL with 82 tackles in eight games.
Johnson said in June, “His situation is different from my situation… I’m not him,” and indicated he had no intention of holding out or disrupting the season.
The Bears, under former general manager Ryan Pace, drafted Johnson in the second round out of Utah in 2020. He has been their best corner ever since, occasionally going entire games in which the opposing quarterback didn’t throw his way. He had two interceptions in the Raiders game, including his first pick-six. In 45 games, he has 35 pass breakups and three interceptions.