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Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson on future: 'Heart's definitely in Chicago, mind's definitely on the money' 

ORLANDO, Fla. -- An adventurous 2023 season for Jaylon Johnson has set up a pivotal offseason.

The Bears cornerback -- who emerged as an elite NFL talent, sought an extension and asked for a trade all in one year -- is an impending free agent who's divided by his mind and heart as he peers into an unsure future.

"Heart's definitely in Chicago, mind's definitely on the money," Johnson told at Saturday's Pro Bowl practice. "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."

Having played out his rookie contract, the Bears' 2020 NFL Draft second-rounder turned in a truly terrific season at the best of times. At year's end, Johnson had earned an overall 90.8 PFF grade -- tops in the league. Long regarded as a coverage maven, Johnson's 91.0 coverage grade was also the NFL's highest.

The first-time Pro Bowler believes his play showed him to be one of the NFL's elite corners -- hence his desire to be paid as one.

"No doubt. No doubt," Johnson said when asked if he believed he had established himself as one of the best corners in the league. "I think just, like I was saying, just through my career, just continuing to get better, continuing to get better."

In 14 games, Johnson posted 36 tackles, 10 pass breakups, forced a fumble and hauled in four interceptions -- including a pick-six. His INT tally was four times his career mark over the previous three seasons, having recorded just one pick prior. Being able to cause turnovers was an onus for Johnson, and having done so, he believes he's proven himself to be a complete package at CB.

"Probably the only thing I have [against me] was not getting turnovers," he said. "But now, this year I started getting some turnovers, creating. I feel like I've always been an exceptional cover guy, so just being able to impact the game and make plays in the air is something I wanted to do, and I went out and did that. And now everybody knows I can take the ball away. So, I feel like there's really not a box I can't check."

Johnson can expect a big check forthcoming. The Bears have $49.13 million in 2024 salary cap space, which is eighth-most in the NFL, according to Spotrac. The looming question is whether general manager Ryan Poles will agree to pay Johnson the $18-$21 million per year that the top-paid corners have garnered after one blockbuster season at the perfect time.

Johnson has been a starter since his rookie season and he's still only 24-years-old. As the Bears aim to resurrect the franchise in 2024 from the dregs of five straight years without a winning campaign, Johnson would seem to fit the bill as a cornerstone for Matt Eberflus' defense.

However, nothing has worked out so far.

Johnson missed the beginning of 2023 organized team activities, had his name tossed around in trade rumors, followed up his aforementioned first career pick-six by letting it known he wanted to get paid, requested a trade and has professed that he'd love to stay in Chi-Town.

It was a whirlwind in the Windy City for Johnson, who starred on a 7-10 team.

It was a season in which he emerged from being a solid starting corner to an all-star with an argument for having been the very best at his position in the regular season.

"For me, I think it was just sticking true to the script," Johnson said of his breakout season. "I thought if we just kept the work consistent, continued to work and continued to keep my head down and being able to let the world see who I am and the things that I can do. So, I was just blessed for that opportunity."

Where Johnson's next opportunity comes will be a prevailing offseason topic in Chicago and beyond.

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