Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson announces emotional personal battle after signing new contract

LAKE FOREST, IL (AP) — Jaylon Johnson became one of the highest-paid NFL defensive players only after a private mental and emotional personal battle.

The Chicago Bears' fifth-year cornerback signed a four-year contract extension last week for a reported $76 million, and on Monday he revealed he regarded it as a personal triumph not merely because it confirmed his football abilities.

“I went to therapy last season for sexual addiction,” Johnson said. “That was the hardest thing for me to open up to my therapist about.

“That is something nobody knew about.”

Johnson had four of his five career interceptions last season and was second-team All-Pro during a contract year. Pro Football Focus graded him the top cornerback in the league last season.

Johnson said he felt compelled to announce his personal struggles.

“It’s like, man, we’re human, too,” Johnson said. “We go through things. Everybody goes through things. But I feel like people (think), like you’ve got to put a mask on, you’ve got to cover it up.

“It's like, no, it’s OK to go through things. It’s OK to seek help. It’s OK to be vulnerable.”

Johnson wanted to share this to bring awareness to the issue.

“I want to say, for one, it’s because I know I’m not the only one going through it,” Johnson said. “Two, it’s OK to go through stuff; it’s OK not to be perfect.”

Football almost became an outlet for Johnson during his therapy last year.

“Everybody was talking about playing football — that’s easy,” Johnson said. “I mean, just going out and seeing my therapist on an off day, it’s like, damn, that’s where I’m most uncomfortable.”

He worried less about getting his new contract than improving his mental health.

“I was worried about trying to get myself right because for me it’s bigger than contracts,” Johnson said. “I mean, me being who I need to be as a man, who I need to be as a father, as a partner, as a future husband, that’s more important.”

Johnson ultimately felt victorious on the field by becoming a lockdown cornerback in a breakthrough season.

“Thinking back on it, I don’t think there was ever anybody open in the games,” he said. “So stuff like that is something I take pride in, just being sticky in coverage.

“And also just making plays in the backfield, as well, I feel like even on screens, being aggressive, tackling receivers in the backfield, I think that was something big that I didn’t put on film too much (in the past)," he said. “But I felt like just having that aggressive balance of sticky coverage and being physical in the run game as well.”

The contract allows Johnson to continue playing in a secondary now revamped after the signing of veteran safety Kevin Byard to a two-year contract as a replacement for veteran Eddie Jackson.

The Bears tied for the league lead in interceptions last season.

“I know we’ve got dogs at all levels,” Johnson said of the Bears defense. “So I think just being in on (Byard) and with the departure of Eddie, I think kind of put the glue back together in the secondary that we needed.”

As free agency opens Monday with the negotiating period, the big question facing the team is whether quarterback Justin Fields will be traded and how it would affect the locker room if he is.

“I feel like at the end of the day, we know the business that we’re in,” Johnson said. “So I feel like it wouldn’t be mature of us as a locker room not to rally together in spite of having Justin leave.

“I know what it would do to keep him here. I know how we would feel with him here, but I feel like at the end of the day, we’ll all have our opinions, our emotions, but as far as the locker room staying together, I think we have the right guys in the locker room to keep everything together, to keep us together.”