The NFL trade deadline is less than one week away and rumors about who might move across the league have started buzzing more and more. One Bears player who’s come up in trade rumors is Jaylon Johnson.
Johnson has been one of the most talented coverage cornerbacks in the league for years, and this season he’s started creating takeaways opportunities at a higher clip too. But Johnson is playing on the last year of his contract, and there’s been debate about whether or not he’s done enough to convince the Bears that he’s worthy of a lucrative contract extension. On a recent episode of NBC Sports Chicago’s “Under Center Podcast,” Hall of Fame coach and “Football Night in America” analyst Tony Dungy joined the show and shared his thoughts on what the Bears should do with their talented cornerback.
“I’ve never been one to say, ‘We’re going to get rid of good players and get what we want and rebuild,’” Dungy said on the show. “If you’ve got a player that plays your style and you’re comfortable with him, let’s go forward and let’s keep winning. And you never have enough cover people.”
There’s no doubt Johnson is one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the NFL. For years he’s been recognized as a player who can stymie elite wide receivers. But there have been questions about whether Johnson can take the ball away at a high clip, like head coach Matt Eberflus demands from his defenders.
Entering this season Johnson only had one career interception, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery over three seasons. That’s not enough in the Bears’ eyes. So Johnson worked on techniques to help generate more turnovers and he’s started to see the results. Of course there was Week 7’s big day with two interceptions, including a pick-six. Johnson also forced a fumble in Week 2 that the Bears weren’t able to recover.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked,” Eberflus said earlier this week. “He’s done a really good job of improving his craft. He’s always been really good in terms of being sticky at the top of routes and being able to close distances and make plays on the ball. Now he’s starting to make those interceptions, which is positive. Obviously getting takeaways is a big thing.”
Dungy indicated that’s not just coach-speak from Eberflus.
“I know this coaching staff is comfortable with him,” Dungy said.
That seems to put to rest concerns that Johnson might not fit into Eberflus’ style of defense. There’s still the question of whether the Bears ultimately extend Johnson, and what they do at the deadline.
Do they take a chance on a player as they try to build up their roster, like they did with Chase Claypool last season? Do they stand pat with the roster they’ve got? Or do they trade away some high performing players with expiring contracts like they did with Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn?
If the Bears decide to go that latter route, there aren’t many players who could fit the bill. Andrew Billings has been a revelation at nose tackle, but the Bears are so hard-pressed for effective pass rushers that it doesn’t make sense to set the unit back even more. Cody Whitehair has been pushed out of his starting center job, but he’s too valuable to the team as a depth piece at both center and guard– especially with Nate Davis on the shelf with an ankle injury.
Johnson’s case is a little different, though. He is a player on an expiring contract who can fetch valuable draft picks on the trade market. He also plays a position where the Bears have intriguing young talent. The Bears spent two draft picks on cornerbacks this year to bring in Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith. Each rookie has shown the makings of a good corner in their playing time this season.
But as Dungy said, NFL teams can’t have enough good players at premium positions like cornerback.
“I just never liked the idea, you know, this team, maybe they’re not in it, so they look ahead. Well, the way you get better is stockpile good players. So I’m not trading Jaylon Johnson just to get another pick down the road.”
The NFL trade deadline is Oct. 31.