The best trade deadline move by the Chicago Bears is the one they didn't make

Chicago Bears, Jaylon Johnson
Chicago Bears, Jaylon Johnson / Todd Rosenberg/GettyImages

The NFL trade deadline has come and gone, and the Chicago Bears look a bit different than they did before. General manager Ryan Poles bolstered the team's beleaguered defensive line, acquiring Washington Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat for a 2024 second-round pick.

Sweat instantly becomes one of the best players on the Bears roster, but there will be plenty of time to talk about the impact he'll be able to make in Chicago. For now, I'd like to focus on one move the Chicago Bears didn't make.

The Bears were heavily involved in two rumors in the days leading up to the trade deadline. The first one, that they were interested in acquiring a defensive end, came to fruition when they traded for Sweat. The second, that they were shopping Jaylon Johnson with the Steelers, Eagles, 49ers, and others after the star cornerback requested a trade, was never consummated with an actual deal.

Trading Jaylon Johnson would have been a terrible move for the Bears

There's not a team in the NFL that Johnson couldn't help, so the real question is, why haven't the Bears been able to sign him to a long-term extension? Johnson checks all the boxes of what the Bears need right now. He's young, he's one of the best players in the league at his position, and even better, he's homegrown, having been drafted by the Bears in the second round in 2020.

The Chicago Bears have more cap space than any team in the NFL in 2024. We can't be privy to what negotiations between Johnson and the team have looked like thus far, but what we do know is that the Bears can afford to pay him what he's worth, and they absolutely should.

Ryan Poles could always franchise Johnson to keep him around, but that would be a bad look after sending away Roquan Smith last year amid a similar contract dispute, and it wouldn't bode well for the chances of Johnson being in Chicago long-term.

Without Johnson, the Bears' cornerback situation becomes tenuous. There's a lot to like about rookie Tyrique Stevenson, but he's been getting picked on by opposing offenses early in his first year. He's also been prone to committing penalties. Fellow rookie Terell Smith has been a pleasant surprise after being drafted in the fifth round, but it's doubtful that he's ready to assume the responsibility of shutting down the top receivers in the league. Second-year corner Kyler Gordon has potential, but the Bears need to see more from him after he missed over a month with a broken hand.

At only 24 years old, Johnson is the senior member of one of the youngest cornerback groups in the league. He's also by far the best player of the bunch, having allowed only 11 receptions on 26 targets this year. The Chicago Bears can't afford to lose that kind of production, especially with the pass rush still a work in progress, even after acquiring Sweat.

Trading for Sweat shows that the Bears are serious about competing next year. Allowing Johnson to get away would completely contradict that mission. The best teams in the league have been built from within, so it's foolhardy to believe the Chicago Bears can piece together a winner through free agency alone. Besides, with the way the organization has been mismanaged in recent years, are free agents really going to want to come to Chicago on the chance that things will be different? The Bears will have to overpay, and as we all know, that's not something the McCaskeys have ever been willing to do.

If the Bears can reach a long-term deal to keep Sweat in Chicago beyond this year, the trade with Washington will be looked at as a nice step forward for a defense that has needed help. Would a second-round pick be as good as Sweat? Probably not.


When we look back on this trade deadline, though, the best move the Bears made could very well be the one that didn't happen. Trading Jaylon Johnson for a draft pick never made sense, as it would only push the Bears further into rebuild mode. Keeping him gives this young secondary a chance to grow into one of the best units on the team, and one of the primary reasons the Bears can reasonably hope to compete for the playoffs in 2024. Whatever issues Johnson and the Chicago Bears had in past negotiations need to be left in the past. Get a deal done, and keep Jaylon Johnson in Chicago.