LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) — Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson had a wry smile on his face as he sat down in front of reporters Wednesday afternoon at Halas Hall.
“I'm here,” Johnson said. “I'm ready to answer whatever questions you got.”
Johnson had heard the speculation about his absence from parts of the Bears’ offseason program at Halas Hall. Though participation is voluntary, Johnson understood there was a perception in some minds that he was holding out from the team’s work while seeking a contract extension.
That wasn't the case, he said. Instead, the 24-year-old Johnson had been back home in Fresno spending time with his 3-year-old daughter while also working with his foundation, Kevvy’s Vision Project. Johnson — who was the Bears' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee last season for his charitable work — hosted the Grizzlies Golf Classic fundraiser event last weekend.
“Not even close,” Johnson said in refuting the idea that his absence had anything to do with his contract situation. “No. Anybody who knows me (knows) that's not my character. I think at the end of the day, for me – I wouldn't even say holding out. Just having prior priorities. At the end of the day, everybody knows I have a 3-year-old daughter back at home in California and I'm a dad before I'm anything else. Before I’m a football player. Before I’m anything, I’m a dad first.
“I take pride in being a dad. I'm not just any old type of dad that just comes and sees their kid whenever. I'm present. I'm spending time. I'm putting my heart into my daughter. When it comes to the offseason, I take that serious. I communicated that to the coaches and they understood and hopefully respected it. At the end of the day, I'm going to be there for my daughter because they can find another corner. My daughter can't find another dad. I take pride in that.”
Johnson returned to the Bears this week and quickly stepped into the void at cornerback. Coach Matt Eberflus had declined to publicly speak on the absence of Johnson and other key veterans who had missed work during OTAs, but Eberflus fully understood why Johnson wasn't present with the team.
Participation in the offseason program is only required during veteran minicamp, which takes place over three days starting next Tuesday at Halas Hall.
“He’s great,” Eberflus said of Johnson. “The one thing that he did, he was working and he came back ready.”
A second-round pick of the Bears in 2020, Johnson is set to play the final year of his rookie contract this season. He has been a key starter for Chicago’s secondary ever since he was drafted, playing 39 games and offering a steady presence at cornerback.
The Bears are positioned with the salary cap space to pursue contract extensions with Johnson, tight end Cole Kmet, receiver Darnell Mooney and receiver Chase Claypool should they choose. And now that the bulk of the team's offseason work completed, that could soon be an order of business for general manager Ryan Poles.
Johnson confirmed that he's transitioning to a new agency this offseason, and his hope is to sign a long-term extension with the Bears prior to the start of the regular season while continuing to earn his place in the team's future.
“I just go out and continue to be who I am,” Johnson said. “Continue to be the player I am, keep getting better, keep finding ways to improve my game. And really, just find ways to win. For me, I'm not too worried about it.
"100%. I look forward to staying and extending with the Bears."
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.