5 Most Important Patriots Free Agent Targets in 2024

Dec 23, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) at
Dec 23, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) at / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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4. Jaylon Johnson, CB, Chicago Bears

Jaylon Johnson is coming off of a standout season in which he was recognized with second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. The Bears cornerback is only 24 but already has an argument for best corner in the NFL this season. Per Pro Football Focus, the Utah product was the highest-rated cornerback in the league, both by the overall defensive grade and coverage grade metrics.

In 14 games, Johnson picked off four passes (including one for a touchdown in Week 7 against the Las Vegas Raiders), forced a fumble, and logged 36 tackles. He has been heavily entrusted on the back-end of Chicago's defense, playing 96 percent of the Bears' defensive snaps since he entered the league.

Per CBS Sports, Johnson is the fifth-best free agent available in this class and due for a payday in the neighborhood of five years and $78.7 million (average annual value of $15.7 million). He has already expressed some disgruntlement in the Windy City, as he requested (and received) permission to seek a trade prior the trade deadline, and was reportedly disappointed that he didn't get dealt. Johnson's discontent was largely driven by an inability to agree to a contract extension with the Bears as his rookie contract was approaching expiration.

2023 first-round cornerback Christian Gonzalez looked like the real deal in his four NFL games, but it is important to remember that the sample size was incredibly limited after he sustained a season-ending torn labrum and dislocated shoulder in the team's disastrous Week 4 loss in Dallas. Johnson's presence could also help alleviate some of the pressure on Gonzalez as he continues to mature and develop as a pro.

With Johnson and Gonzalez manning each side of the field as cover corners, the future of the Patriots secondary should be in great hands.