49ers Could ‘Swing Big’ on Star Projected for $80 Million Deal

Jaylon Johnson would be an interesting target for 49ers free agency.

Getty Jaylon Johnson would be an interesting target for 49ers free agency.

As we have seen, you never can quite tell what direction 49ers GM John Lynch will take in 49ers free agency. Few had them pegged as pursuing a top-flight defensive lineman at this time last year, for example, and yet when it came time to put pen to paper, the 49ers came away with star free agent Javon Hargrave on a four-year, $84 million contract.

There could be another big and unexpected swing taken this offseason, too. After earning a spot in the Super Bowl and suffering a disappointing loss to the Chiefs, the 49ers should be able to create enough cap space to pursue the best possible player, regardless of position.

According to Bleacher Report, that might well mean addressing the cornerback position, where the 49ers need depth, with the top-rated player in the NFL: Bears star Jaylon Johnson.

As B/R’s Kristopher Knox wrote this week: “Cornerback depth is also needed, and if the 49ers swing big in free agency, it could be for a top corner like Jaylon Johnson or L’Jarius Sneed.”

Jaylon Johnson Has His Mind ‘On the Money’

Sneed, who suited up for the Chiefs in Super Bowl 58, would be a possibility for the 49ers, but Johnson is not just the top corner available in free agency, he is No. 1 among all corners. While there has been some momentum toward Johnson re-signing in Chicago, he made clear that he will follow the money.

“Heart’s definitely in Chicago, mind’s definitely on the money,” Johnson told NFL.com this month. “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 earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2023, when he played 14 games and had four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown—against the Raiders, no less. He had 10 passes defensed last year, and after giving up a quarterback rating of 94.6 last year when the man he was covering was targeted, Johnson slashed that nearly in half this year, allowing a rating of 50.9.

Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 90.7 this season, which was No. 1 among all 127 graded cornerbacks.

49ers Free Agency Could Boost Secondary

On the free agent market in general, PFF has Johnson as the No. 9 overall free agent on the board this offseason and the No. 1 cornerback, just ahead of Sneed, and wrote of him, “The physical, technically sound wide cornerback boasts ball production and lockdown coverage abilities that prevent targets as well as anyone, never allowing a 60% completion rate in any NFL season thus far.”

Johnson is not a cheap target. But with the 49ers’ pass rush, having a better bookend corner opposite Charvarius Ward would make the defense all the more stifling. Ward had a PFF grade of 84.7, fifth in the NFL. Deommodore Lenoir was very good, with a PFF grade of 75.8, 22nd in the league, but having him as a third corner would make that secondary all the tougher.

Johnson will not come cheap for the 49ers. Former Vikings GM Jeff Diamond, writing at the 33rd Team, projects a four-year, $80 million contract for Johnson. Spotrac places his market value at $15.7 million per year, and projects him getting a five-year, $79 million deal if he hits free agency.

That could be an opportunity for the 49ers. Johnson has made clear that he prefers to remain with the Bears. But he also made clear that he is open for business.

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