Recently released cornerback could be in the Chicago Bears contingency plans

Chicago Bears, Xavien Howard
Chicago Bears, Xavien Howard / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2024 NFL offseason nearly underway, the Chicago Bears find themselves facing several potentially franchise-altering decisions. The team's quarterback debate is at the top of the new cycle, both locally and nationally, but it is essential to examine the other parts of this roster that could be reshaped before the start of next season. Specifically, the Bears and veteran cornerback Jaylon Johnson seem to be at a crossroads contract-wise, and they have been for some time.

The Path for Jaylon Johnson to Return to the Chicago Bears

Since before the start of the 2023 campaign, Johnson and his camp have been trying to negotiate an extension to the player's existing rookie contract, which is set to expire this offseason. Johnson himself has voiced his desire to stay in Chicago but appears dedicated to earning his full potential. Just weeks ago at the Pro Bowl, the first of his career, Johnson told reporters "Heart's definitely in Chicago, mind's definitely on the money. We'll figure out if we can make them both come together and get something done. I'm looking forward to seeing what's to come".

Chicago Bears, Eddie Jackson, Jaylon Johnson
Chicago Bears, Eddie Jackson, Jaylon Johnson / Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It seems that the Bears, who currently have the third most available cap space across the league, should financially be able to reinvest in a player who has become a locker-room leader in Chicago. In four years with the team, Johnson has blossomed into one of the world's premier boundary cornerbacks, and could potentially reset the position's market this offseason. If a long-term contract cannot be agreed upon, the Bears could still exercise the franchise tag, a move that would effectively result in a 1-year, $19.8 million contract for the 2024 season.

After the departure of veteran safety Eddie Jackson, Johnson could return to the Bears as the most experienced member of the secondary. Even though general manager Ryan Poles was not around for Johnson's arrival to Chicago, the cornerback is a big part of this current roster, both on and off the field, and it appears that both parties seem optimistic that they will work out a long-term deal in due time.

Still, there is a chance that, for whatever reason, the Bears are unable to extend Johnson. In that case, the Bears would have a massive hole at the cornerback position, and with 2023 rookie Tyrique Stevenson manning the other side of the defense, it would make sense for the team to pursue a veteran over a younger player.

Chicago Bears Could Find a Strong Replacement in Xavien Howard

On Saturday morning, the Miami Dolphins announced the release of veteran Xavien Howard, one of the league's most productive ball-hawks. An eight-year veteran, Howard's 29 career interceptions since 2016 lead all cornerbacks during that time, although this production has dipped over recent seasons. Howard led the lead in picks in both 2018 and 2020, but he has managed to log only two over the past two seasons.

Howard's production, or lack thereof, in 2023 may be a result of the defensive schemes under Vic Fangio, at least according to the social media postings of teammate Jalen Ramsey. Whatever the reason is for Howard's decline in interceptions, it does not necessarily indicate that Howard is declining overall.

In 2023, the 30-year-old corner was held to just 13 regular season appearances where he allowed three or fewer completions eight times. Additionally, Howard allowed 60 or more air yards once during the year while recording three games with one air yard allowed or fewer.

Howard's most productive years may be behind him, but he still can negate an entire side of the field or a specific player in the passing game. Again, the Bears may still be able to resign Johnson, but if that does not come to fruition, Howard could be the perfect candidate to step into a starting role. As the Chicago Bears initiate their free agency plans, a very important domino will be what happens at the cornerback position.