Jaylon Johnson still is seeking common ground with the Chicago Bears on a contract extension: ‘I’m not asking to change the market’

Jaylon Johnson wants to remain a Chicago Bear. That tune hasn’t changed.

“I’ve said that since I got here,” Johnson reiterated Wednesday, a day after the Bears gave him permission to seek a trade that never materialized before Tuesday’s deadline.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles would love to keep Johnson as part of the team’s core as he tries to build a championship contender at Halas Hall. Poles’ big-picture stance hasn’t changed either.

“I don’t want to lose Jaylon Johnson,” he said.

Yet the means for those wishes to become reality is a contract extension that hasn’t materialized through a negotiating process that has been slower and clunkier than either side wants.

Johnson sees himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and wants to be rewarded accordingly with his second contract. Poles, meanwhile, has stressed business discipline throughout his time as GM, working hard not to wander far beyond the financial boundaries he and his front office set when valuing players.

The result? A contractual staring contest with an obvious disconnect between what the Bears are willing to pay Johnson and what the cornerback and his camp believe he is worth.

Poles explained his desire to find “a sweet spot” and asserted that an in-person meeting Sunday in Los Angeles with Johnson’s agent, Christopher Ellison, went well.

“I thought we made progress,” Poles said. “I texted my group and said, ‘We’ll be able to get this deal done in a matter of days.’”

But when the Bears returned from Los Angeles, Ellison and Johnson expressed a desire to explore a trade. That’s why, in a bit of a surprising twist, Poles granted Johnson that permission and why Johnson thought he might wake up Wednesday as part of a new organization.

“That’s the respect I have for Jaylon,” Poles said. “It’s like, ‘If that’s in your heart that you want to go check that out, go check that out and see what comes back.’”

Poles, naturally, set the bar high for trade talks.

“If I were to lose Jaylon Johnson, I would like to have a high-percentage (chance) of hitting on another Jaylon Johnson,” he said. “Which to me is a late first- or early second-(round) draft pick. That didn’t happen.

“So we are still open to getting a contract done. And I’m going to follow Jaylon’s lead on how he wants to go about doing that.”

With nine games remaining in the fourth and final season of Johnson’s rookie deal, the next step in this process will play out with Johnson having plenty of motivation for the next 2 1/2 months.

“Just want to continue to stack the season and build my resume the best I can,” Johnson said. “I have some personal goals I want to achieve. And then from there, we’ll figure that (contract stuff) out when that time comes.”

Johnson was asked if, given the way negotiations with the Bears have transpired, he is now eager to hit free agency when his rookie deal expires in March. He smiled and nodded.

“One hundred percent,” he said.

What remains unknown is where the Bears have set their value on Johnson compared with how the cornerback values himself. Johnson emphasized Wednesday that he and his camp haven’t been outlandish with their requests.

“I’m not asking to change the market or break records,” Johnson said. “But I’m also not just going to take anything. Like, ‘OK, you deem me as this so I’m this.’ No, I’m not just going to take one man’s word and put that viewpoint on myself.”

Johnson said Tuesday’s experience — with his agent able to speak with other teams about possible contract terms if a potential trade had materialized — gave him conviction that his financial goals aren’t unreasonable.

Asked whether his camp’s talks with other teams presented a contract assessment that was fundamentally different from what the Bears have offered, Johnson said, “In some cases, yes, sir.”

Poles countered that while the Bears have extended potential contract offers, neither side has presented a final offer.

“That’s why we met in LA,” Poles said. “We were (trying) to close the gap and figure out where to go next.”

Johnson, a second-round pick by the Bears in 2020, made the second and third interceptions of his career in a win over the Las Vegas Raiders two weeks ago. He hopes to add to that total while establishing himself as one of the game’s best pass defenders.

He has drawn praise from the Bears coaching staff all season for his coverage ability and improved tackling.

“I’ve been playing high-level football all year,” Johnson said. “Nothing for me is going to change. My attitude isn’t going to change. Me being who I am isn’t going to change. At the end of the day, me doing what I need to do helps the Bears as well.”

Johnson also has zoomed out to understand Poles’ perspective from the GM’s chair.

“This whole situation is interesting,” Johnson said. “It’s easy to take everything personally. At the end of the day, Ryan has his family to feed. Ryan has people he answers to. I feel like have to, in a sense, respect that.

“What I view for myself is what I view for myself. And how he views me is for him and what’s best for this organization. I don’t take any of it personally.”

Still, nothing has progressed to satisfy Johnson or Poles. And at this stage, it’s not easy to predict the ultimate resolution.


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