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EXCLUSIVE: Contract extension 'a surreal moment' for Jaylon Johnson

Story by Gabby Hajduk

As Jaylon Johnson landed in Chicago Sunday night, he experienced a wave of emotions unlike anything he had felt before.

Knowing he would be inking a four-year contract extension with the Bears Monday morning, Johnson felt a heightened sense of pride, gratitude and reflection — not just for how far he has come, but for all that led him to this point.

"Touching down made me think about everything," Johnson told, "just how far I've come from Pop Warner to high school to college to now. Just the whole process — I've been playing football a long time. To get to this point, it's a surreal moment that I can't truly put words to. But I'm definitely loving the position I'm in and what the future looks like here."

Jaylon Johnson lands in Chicago Sunday night to sign his contract extension.
Jaylon Johnson lands in Chicago Sunday night to sign his contract extension.
Jaylon Johnson with his family after landing in Chicago Sunday night to sign his contract extension.
Jaylon Johnson with his family after landing in Chicago Sunday night to sign his contract extension.

Since Johnson and the Bears agreed to the extension Thursday, there has been a sense of relief and excitement for all parties involved, including general manager Ryan Poles.

From a team perspective, Poles is excited about the stability Johnson's long-term deal provides a Bears defense that ascended as last season progressed. But from a personal standpoint, Poles takes the most pride in rewarding a player he respects and appreciates off the field.

"The biggest thing, which I take really seriously, is Jaylon as a person," Poles said. "I can't wait to see him and his family come here Monday. That's life-changing money and for him to be able to set himself up, his daughter, his family up for what should be the rest of their lives, that part hits me harder than anything else. I'm happy about that.

"This game can provide that type of financial situation and not a lot of people get to do that. To see that really brings a lot of joy to me for this job. That's one thing a lot of people don't talk about — you're able to change someone's life and that part is really cool."

After finalizing the deal last week, Poles exchanged text messages with Johnson, sharing how happy he was for the Pro Bowl cornerback, adding: "I'll give you a huge hug when you get in on Monday."

Building that relationship with Johnson the last two years and understanding his influence on the team as a leader and playmaker, Poles knew this extension needed to be his first move this spring.

"I wanted to start this offseason with Jaylon out of respect for what he's brought to this organization," Poles said. "I think that's important. We're looking to do some good things in free agency, and it didn't sit right with me to take care of the free agents from outside the building before we took care of Jaylon.

"We worked really hard down the stretch, and it was a priority to me, to coach [Matt] Eberflus and this organization to take care of Jaylon first. We're all really, really excited to find common ground and get that done."

Johnson's improvement and growth mindset showed up in a multitude of ways for the Bears in 2023. Poles and Eberflus both saw a player who took another step in mastering his craft by creating takeaways which elevated the entire defensive unit and helped the team gain more confidence as the season progressed.


Along with ranking seventh in the NFL with four interceptions — including his first pick-six — and continuing to be a highly dependable force in coverage, Johnson also assumed a larger leadership role. Eberflus saw Johnson take young players like cornerbacks Kyler Gordon, Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith under his wing and become an invaluable source to the locker room in part because of how he carries himself outside of football.

"You have to have veteran presence in the locker room, in your unit room, so those guys help teach, mold and model the behavior of a true pro," Eberflus said. "The guys see that and they want to be like that. So it's great when Jaylon signs a second contract because it's so important to be able to show the players that if you work hard and you do things right and you lead, you'll be rewarded.

"More importantly about Jaylon, he's been great off the field. The example he's given off the field has been tremendous. What he's done in the community, what he's done in the Chicagoland area, what he does back in Fresno, that's been an excellent example as well. He's been dynamic that way."


For Johnson, the impact this extension will have on his family and his community is the most rewarding part.

While his first priority is helping his family "live a stress-free life" after the endless sacrifices they made, along with the time and support they invested in him, next on the list is "blessing others that I may not know."

"There's a lot that I want to do with the blessings that I've been able to receive and am going to receive with the contract and the money and all that," Johnson said. "It's something that I take pride in, being able to change people's lives, not just taking it for myself. Truly being able to impact my family first and then impact other people, whether it's in Fresno or Chicago."

Johnson has embraced the Chicago community as much as it has embraced him in the last four years, but the AP All-Pro attributes a lot of his success to his hometown.

It's a surreal feeling for Johnson to represent a city where his aspirations of making it to the NFL were born and share this monumental milestone with that community because "it's all just started with hope."

"The city of Fresno knows the type of person I am," Johnson said. "It's not just, 'oh he's from Fresno.' No, I'm in Fresno. When you see me, you see Fresno. When you see Fresno, you see me. It's that deeply rooted. The city definitely knows my love and appreciation for it and what it turned me into. I wouldn't be who I am today without growing up in the city of Fresno."

Having cemented himself as a Bear for the next four years, Johnson will be representing Chicago just as much as his hometown. Knowing that the front office also committed to him as a building block for the future was an important piece of the puzzle for the 24-year-old. For him, those feelings of pride and respect from an organization are "why you play the game," and they allow him to embody the Bears' identity as an organization moving forward.

"It's also different for me because I got drafted here — not with these coaches, not with the GM, but with a whole different staff," Johnson said. "I think it means a lot more that I was able to get that respect and build that relationship with the organization, with this front office. It just feels good and it's another testament to staying true to myself, staying true to my game and just keeping my head down, continuing to work and improve my game."

Bears fans also had the opportunity to submit voice messages to congratulate Jaylon Johnson on his extension. Click here to see the fan responses.

To celebrate Jaylon Johnson staying in Chicago thanks to a four-year contract extension, take a look at some of the best images of the cornerback from his first four NFL seasons.

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