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Bears place franchise tag on Jaylon Johnson, buying time to reach extension with Pro Bowl cornerback

CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears have placed the franchise tag on Pro Bowl cornerback Jaylon Johnson ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, a league source confirmed to the Chicago Tribune, a move designed to buy more time in contract extension negotiations.

A week ago at the NFL scouting combine, general manager Ryan Poles expressed optimism to get a multiyear deal done and asserted that the Bears had put a strong offer on the table for Johnson and his camp.

“Conversations are going well at this time,” Poles said on Feb. 27 in Indianapolis. “We feel like we’ve done a really good job coming to the table strong and showing the respect he’s due.”

Poles said the offer to Johnson had a desirable combination of guaranteed money, total value and a contract term that would give the soon-to-be 25-year-old cornerback “a really good opportunity to go back to the market again and continue to earn money and play well.”

“Hopefully that’s with the Bears for a long period of time,” Poles continued. “So I’m excited about that. But like I’ve said about these deals all the time, it takes two to tango. And you have to find a place that everyone feels comfortable with.”

By applying the franchise tag, the Bears keep Johnson from becoming an unrestricted free agent when his rookie contract expires next week. The sides have until July 15 to come to terms on an extension. If not, Johnson would be under contract with the Bears for next season at $19.8 million.

Both sides would prefer to get a multiyear deal done before then and will continue contract talks.

The non-exclusive franchise tag gives Johnson the opportunity to negotiate a new contract with another team, while the Bears retain the right to match any offer. But if Johnson were to reach a new deal elsewhere and the Bears didn’t match, the team that signed him would owe the Bears two first-round draft picks, which makes that scenario highly unlikely.

Johnson, whom the Bears drafted in the second round (No. 50) out of Utah in 2020, is coming off a career year in which he recorded four interceptions and established himself as one of the top cover corners in the league. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and named second-team All-Pro.

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

At last season’s trade deadline, the Bears granted Johnson’s request for permission to explore a trade, a move both sides hoped could provide greater clarity on the cornerback’s value. Nothing materialized, however, and Johnson and the Bears agreed to resume contract negotiations after the season.

While eager to be rewarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the league with his second NFL contract, Johnson was emphatic in the final weeks of last season that his priority was to remain with the Bears in 2024 and beyond.

“I feel like we’re building something special, especially with the guys in this locker room,” he said in December. “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.”