5 player decisions besides QB facing the Chicago Bears, including Jaylon Johnson’s contract and Darnell Mooney’s future

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles spent much of his end-of-season news conference discussing how he will make his upcoming decision about the quarterback position.

But Poles has plenty of other roster decisions to make aside from if he will stick with Justin Fields or draft a quarterback.

Here’s a look at five players and positions Poles addressed last week.

1. Jaylon Johnson

Johnson, who completed his fourth season with the Bears, was named to the Associated Press All-Pro second team Friday, the only Bears player to receive recognition. He also was named one of two Bears Pro Bowlers, along with defensive end Montez Sweat, earlier in January.

The honors come on the heels of a career season in which Johnson had four interceptions — including a pick-six — 10 passes defended, 36 tackles and a forced fumble and allowed a league-best 33.3 passer rating in 14 games, according to Pro Football Focus.

Johnson is set to be a free agent this offseason unless the Bears sign him to an extension or use the franchise or transition tag on him.

Poles tried to work out an extension with Johnson before the midseason trade deadline, but talks broke down and Johnson requested permission to seek a trade. The Bears didn’t trade him, and Poles said he hopes to resume contract talks soon.

“We have really good communication,” Poles said. “The big thing was just kind of take a break here after the season and then we’ll start talks again. I feel really good about that situation. Jaylon’s not going to go anywhere, and we’ll work through it to get something done.”

Johnson reiterated last month that he wants to stay in Chicago, but he also wants to be paid like one of the league’s top cornerbacks, a cause he helped with his play in 2023.

“I definitely would say I’ve added some money to the value,” Johnson said in December. “At the end of the day, it’s a situation that I feel like is somewhat out of my hands, but we’re going to see how it goes.”

2. Darnell Mooney

Mooney is also set to be a free agent, but the wide receiver is on the other end of the spectrum from Johnson after having a disappointing fourth season. In 15 games, Mooney had a career-low 31 catches for 414 yards and a touchdown. He missed the final two games with a concussion.

That production comes just two years — and one ankle injury — after Mooney had a 1,055-yard season.

Poles said there were several reasons for Mooney’s production dip. He pointed to Mooney missing offseason time as he recovered from his ankle injury. He pointed to the big seasons from DJ Moore and Cole Kmet cutting into Mooney’s targets. Mooney was targeted 61 times compared with 140 in 2021.

And Poles didn’t state it, but the passing offense as a whole behind Fields and since-fired offensive coordinator Luke Getsy had some major problems.

“We’ll evaluate the whole year, and like I told a lot of the guys that are free agents, we’ll be in contact with them throughout the duration,” Poles said. “There are different buckets. There are guys that will go out and test the market, see what’s out there for them and circle back.

“Yeah, Mooney wishes he played a little bit better this year and things went better for him, made some more connections. But I know he’s going to bounce back and have a really good year.”

3. Braxton Jones/left tackle

Poles said Jones “did a good job” in his second season starting at left tackle. Jones, a 2022 fifth-round pick, missed six games midseason with a neck injury, which slowed his progress a bit. But Poles said he was proud of the improvements Jones made.

However, Poles also left open the possibility that the Bears might go after a left tackle in the draft or free agency as he continues to rebuild the line. Last offseason Poles invested the No. 10 pick in right tackle Darnell Wright and signed guard Nate Davis. Center and left tackle are among the positions Poles likely will examine this offseason.

“(Jones) did a nice job of continuing to get better,” Poles said. “He spent a lot of time with Olin (Kreutz) this offseason just working on his anchor, and I thought you saw improvements there. I do believe he’s a starting left tackle, but if it comes down to a situation to increase competition and that’s what’s best for us, then we’ll do that.”

4. Eddie Jackson

Jackson, 30, has seen a lot of turnover as the longest-tenured Bears defensive player. So the 2017 fourth-round pick knows there’s a possibility the team could move on this offseason at safety after he had one interception, five passes defended and 37 tackles in 12 games in 2023.

The Bears could save between $12.6 million and 14.2 million if they cut Jackson, according to

“I hope I’m here next year, but God always has a plan,” Jackson said last month. “So I feel like I’ll always land on my feet. I hope it’s here. I know how it works in the business. I wish I could be here my whole entire career, but we know how this thing works. So you have to live in the moment.”

Poles noted how a foot injury threw off Jackson’s season a bit. He has missed 10 games over the last two years because of injury. But Poles also said Jackson’s impact on second-year safety Jaquan Brisker was notable.

“The communication on the back end,” Poles said. “When Eddie was in you could tell Brisker felt really, really comfortable. That whole group, he really impacts the communication. You can really see that.”

5. Three-technique defensive tackle

Justin Jones is set to become a free agent after two seasons with the Bears. So the Bears have to decide whether to bring back Jones or pick up another player to enhance a young defensive tackle group that includes second-round pick Gervon Dexter and third-round pick Zacch Pickens.

“You can never have enough pass rushers and never enough corners, so we’re going to just keep bringing them in,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “We love the players currently on our roster. They’ve done a really good job. The D-line really played well this year. We’re always looking to enhance that.”

Poles said Dexter had a normal rookie season in terms of starting quietly while finding his way before coming on stronger late, thanks in part to the help of veterans Jones, Andrew Billings and DeMarcus Walker.

“As the season went along, you saw him get better and better,” Poles said. “He started to affect the quarterback more. He started to affect the run more, so I really like his growth process.

“And I’m really excited for this whole team but for those young guys to take the next step next year. They’re going to put the work in this summer and come back even better than this year.”