Ex-Steelers Trade Target Sends Conflicting Message on NFL Future

Jaylon Johnson

Getty Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson fired conflicting messages on his upcoming NFL free agency on February 3.

The Chicago Bears appeared to shut the door on the possibility that All-Pro cornerback Jaylon Johnson could be available for the Pittsburgh Steelers in NFL free agency at the end of the regular season. But on February 3, Johnson seemed to reopen that door.

“Heart’s definitely in Chicago, mind’s definitely on the money,” Johnson told NFL.com on February 3 at the Pro Bowl. “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.”

The Steelers have been connected to Johnson since the NFL trade deadline.

On October 31, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Johnson requested a trade from Chicago before the league’s trade deadline. Fowler also mentioned the Steelers as one of three teams who were engaged in negotiations to trade for the cornerback.

On January 9, Pro Football Focus identified the Steelers as one of four possible fits this offseason besides the Bears for Johnson.

Could CB Jaylon Johnson Fit With the Steelers?

The cliché “wanting your cake and eating it to” seems to fit the situation around Johnson this offseason. He appears to want to stay in Chicago, but Johnson also desires the Bears to make him one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league.

Johnson conveyed those feelings with his contradictory message on February 3. He also said something similar before Christmas.

“I want to stay here,” Johnson told reporters on December 20, via AP News’ Andrew Seligman. “I definitely want to get something done (here) first. But at the end of the day, if something doesn’t get done, then I’m not opposed to any other options.

“But I would love to stay here. So that’s that.”

If he reached free agency, the Steelers would be an obvious fit because of their need at cornerback. Johnson is coming off the best season of his career in 2023 and would immediately upgrade Pittsburgh’s secondary playing opposite Joey Porter Jr.

Johnson posted 36 combined tackles with 10 pass defenses and 4 interceptions in 2023. He made his first Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro.

Still Unlikely Johnson Reaches NFL Free Agency

Johnson can send all the conflicting messages he wants and imply he’s looking forward to free agency. But the Bears have leverage over his contract situation.

And Bears general manager Ryan Poles made it pretty clear Johnson will be staying in Chicago.

“Jaylon’s not going to go anywhere and we’ll work through it to get something done. . . . “We have really good communication,” Poles said on January 10, via NBC Sports Chicago’s Alex Shapiro. “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.”

Even if the Bears don’t agree to a new contract with Johnson before the start of free agency, Chicago can keep the cornerback through the franchise tag.

Arizona Football Daily’s Mike Jurecki reported on February 4 that the Bears are planning to use the franchise tag on Johnson this offseason.

Placing the tag on Johnson will cost the Bears about $18.8 million on a 1-year tender. Then, the Bears and Johnson will have until the middle of July to agree to an extension.

However, that likelihood probably won’t stop Steelers fans from getting excited about the slim possibility of Johnson reaching free agency and signing with Pittsburgh.

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