Jaylon Johnson lands a 4-year extension with the Chicago Bears, keeping the Pro Bowl cornerback as a core playmaker

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Down the stretch of last season, as cornerback Jaylon Johnson was punctuating his Pro Bowl season, he made it clear his push for a financially rewarding second NFL contract was married to a desire to remain with the Chicago Bears.

“I want to stay here,” Johnson said in Week 17, asserting he wasn’t hellbent on testing the open market of free agency. “I feel like we’re building something special too. Especially with the guys in this locker room. I don’t think it’s something I can get anywhere else.

“I would like to stay and continue to build and make this better. And, (shoot), I want to win some games and get to the playoffs and make a push with this Chicago name too.”

That wish has now been granted.

Two days after the Bears applied the franchise tag to Johnson, a league source confirmed that the team finalized the terms of a four-year, $76 million contract extension for their top cornerback. Multiple reports say the deal includes $54 million in guaranteed money.

Johnson, who will turn 25 in April, is coming off a career season in which he was selected to the Pro Bowl and named a second-team All-Pro. He recorded four interceptions, tied for seventh in the NFL, and cemented his reputation as one of the most reliable cover corners in the league.

“We’re extremely excited to be able to keep Jaylon here for the next four years,” general manager Ryan Poles said in a statement. “He’s an integral part of our defense and his leadership will help our team continue to ascend.”

At last week’s scouting combine in Indianapolis, coach Matt Eberflus expressed his appreciation for what Johnson means to a rapidly improving Bears defense.

“I’m so proud of Jaylon with the way he improved and the way he took the challenge to be a ball guy,” Eberflus said. “And he certainly did that. He’s a great leader not only in our defensive back room, but in our whole defensive room too.”

By applying the franchise tag to Johnson on Tuesday, the Bears exercised a team-friendly mechanism that restricted Johnson’s ability to enter the open market of free agency next week. But Johnson and the Bears always had eyes on coming together on a multiyear extension.

That deal was reached Thursday, keeping Johnson as one of the core playmakers on a defense that also includes Pro Bowl defensive end Montez Sweat, linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards and fellow cornerback Kyler Gordon.

As last season ended, the Bears defense was viewed around the league as a unit on the rise. The Bears finished the year with the league’s top run defense, allowing only 86.4 rushing yards per game and ranking fifth in takeaways with 28. Johnson’s four picks tied for the team lead with Edmunds and rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.

The Bears defense also allowed an average of just 17.1 points over the final eight games, statistical evidence of its rapid improvement. The unit is expected to have at least nine starters back entering 2024, including Johnson.

The NFL’s new league year will kick in Wednesday afternoon with many around the league curious to see how Poles will approach free agency. But two of the general manager’s biggest moves are already done with Johnson’s new contract tacked on to the four-year, $98 million extension the team gave Sweat in November.

The Bears have 15 players with contracts set to expire next week. The most notable pending free agents on that list are receiver Darnell Mooney, long snapper Patrick Scales, defensive tackle Justin Jones, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and running back D’Onta Foreman.

The Bears also have five picks for next month’s draft, including the No. 1 selection and another high first-rounder at No. 9. A busy and important offseason continues for Poles, who was able to check an important box Thursday by finishing the deal for Johnson.