Even before confirmation arrived about Jaylon Johnson’s trade request, social media whispers were already doing simple arithmetic to deduce that the Chicago Bears cornerback was not long for the team. After contract negotiations traveled about as far as a slammed Honda Civic in the mud, the news became official.
The Bears have been in a silly mood over the past 12 months. With the most cap space to use in the league during the offseason, they decided spending a chunk of it to sign two off-ball linebackers and re-sign Cole Kmet was the right move.
But in this economy, how do you expect to win football games if you can’t cover opposing wide receivers?
Unfortunately, this organization is as unserious as a standup comedian. The problem is that nobody, aside from their division rivals, is laughing.
Jaylon Johnson Landing Spots
Johnson is a 24-year-old cornerback stuck rotting in a bad organization for four years now. He has produced in that time, but he’s been far from garnering national attention, no matter what the aggregators copy and paste on the internet.
Johnson is not a “star” or anywhere close to it. But he has played his most productive football over the past four games, which is perfect timing for the Bears to luck into some decent compensation for him.
I don’t get the #Bears not coming to terms on an extension with Jaylon Johnson.
He’s young, playing great football and – if his past comments are any indication – isn’t asking for elite CB1 money. There comes a time you pay your homegrown talent. This should’ve been that time.
— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) October 31, 2023
None of that is to say that he’s a bad player. Johnson’s tape is rather good, and he’s still incredibly young for being a four-year veteran.
That precursor was to highlight the fact that Johnson won’t be asking for top-of-the-market pay. This makes it even more curious that the Bears were unable to gain ground on a long-term deal.
Who would be in the market for a young, talented, and relatively inexpensive cornerback, one might ask? Realistically, any team with a pulse. But there are a few contenders who should already be on the phone.
San Francisco 49ers Could Pair Him With Charvarius Ward
The San Francisco 49ers probably make the most sense schematically when it comes to potentially acquiring Johnson. The Bears mix things up a bit defensively, as any modern defense does. However, Cover 3 remains a comfort zone for Matt Eberflus, meaning Johnson has ample experience playing with that leverage.
MORE: 2023 NFL Trade Deadline Tracker
Although Steve Wilks has left his personal mark on the 49ers’ defense, they are still philosophically a team that plays zone coverage and blitzes infrequently. Johnson is relatively comfortable in any alignment and deployment, but he’s very good when he’s able to use his eyes for peering through to the quarterback in zone coverage.
And while the 49ers currently have the most available cap space, any sense of financial safety is a fugazi. According to Over the Cap, they’re just barely positive for 2024, and their effective cap space is $7 million in the red.
Dallas Cowboys Could Pay a Hefty Rental Price
The Cowboys are in a similar spot financially, and they just paid Trevon Diggs big money before his season-ending injury. Teams can always find ways to move money around and even mortgage the future (shoutout to Mickey Loomis), but Dallas still has deals to ink for Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, and after next season, Micah Parsons.
That is three potentially top-of-the-market deals coming in rapid succession. It also doesn’t help that Dallas isn’t necessarily swimming in draft capital. We know that the Jones family prefers drafting. The NFL Draft, in a lot of ways, is their Super Bowl. A player of Johnson’s caliber would command some pretty significant capital.
But considering the long-term, big-money deal he’ll almost surely be awarded in free agency, the Cowboys, or any team that deals for him, will likely receive a third-round compensatory pick in 2025.
Giving up a second-round pick for a nine or 10-game rental is a hefty price to pay… but we just saw the Seahawks do exactly that.
Buffalo Bills Need Johnson the Most
Buffalo isn’t in a great spot financially, but they’re in an even worse spot in their secondary.
Tre’Davious White’s season-ending injury was devastating, and the loss of Matt Milano has a ripple effect on the run-and-pass game. Taron Johnson is a wonderful slot defender, but the Bills were already frantically searching for a CB2 to play on the opposite side of White.
MORE: 3 Trades the Bills Should Make Ahead of the Deadline
If Buffalo can swing a deal and long-term extension, there would be no better marriage than between these two entities. Although Johnson isn’t necessarily a CB1, he is talented enough to be the best cornerback on a decent defense, especially with high-end veteran safety play behind him.
Because Johnson is just 24, it makes sense to extend a deal out as long as possible from the team side of the coin. That would provide the most financial malleability.
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