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Steelers Turn to New Cornerback FA Options

The Chicago Bears used the franchise tag to keep Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback target Jaylon Johnson off the free-agent market.



Steelers Bears CB Jaylon Johnson
Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson (33) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

The Chicago Bears are using their franchise tag on cornerback Jaylon Johnson, keeping the one-time Pittsburgh Steelers target off the open market for the time being. As a result, with both Johnson and L’Jarius Sneed under the franchise tag, if Pittsburgh wants to get a cornerback without giving up draft picks, they will have to look into free agency.

Chicago general manager Ryan Poles said at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week that the Bears hope to sign Johnson to a long-term contract extension.

“There’s a really good opportunity for him to go back to the market again and continue to earn money and play well, and hopefully that’s with the Bears for a long period of time,” Poles said. “I think there is really good space for us to find the middle ground. Again, we always have the tag to use. But I really would like to get something done long term. We feel like we’ve done a really good job of coming to the table strong, showing him the respect that he’s due in terms of his production through his career and really with an emphasis on the turnovers he created this past year. Our expectation is that is going to continue to go as he is with the Bears.”

In Johnson’s last public appearance at the 2024 NFL Pro Bowl games, he detailed his mindset this offseason and what he will look for in a new contract.

“Heart’s definitely in Chicago, mind’s definitely on the money,” Johnson told at Pro Bowl practice. “So, I mean, we’ll figure out if we can make them both come together and get something done. I’m looking forward to see what’s to come.”

Johnson was the No. 50 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and the fourth-year pro had a career season. He shot his value up throughout the season and is now set to be paid well.

Johnson was on the trade block at the mid-season deadline and the fourth-year-pro drew a strong market on the trade market, with the Steelers among four teams that reportedly showed a persistent interest in Johnson. The San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles were also in on the conversations surrounding the 24-year-old.

Instead, he returned to Chicago and now it seems he may remain there for at least the 2024 season, if not long term.

Johnson is the second of the potential 2024 free agent cornerback class to be hit with the tag before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. The Kansas City Chiefs also tagged L’Jarius Sneed, though the Chiefs may trade Sneed if they can’t work out a long-term deal.

As a result, the second tier of free agents become attractive, such as Kendall Fuller, Sean Murphy-Buntimg, and others who have made a name for themselves. Expect the team to add someone at cornerback in free agency.