In terms of the final 2022 NFL standings, the Chicago Bears were further away from the Super Bowl than any other team.
However, Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson was in Glendale, Arizona, as the team’s NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, and just being in the vicinity of the Super Bowl has opened the young talent’s eyes at what dreams may come in the Windy City.
“Before I got down on the field, I went up to a suite,” Johnson told the team website’s Larry Mayer this week. “Just looking down on the field at everybody warming up, I thought, ‘That could be me, that could be us.'”
A second-round pick out of Utah in 2020, Johnson has been a starter for the Bears since his rookie season, but he’s yet to be part of a playoff victory. As Chicago is in full-blown rebuild mode and slotted with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, just how quickly general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus can turn the squad back into winners is the preeminent question for the franchise.
For Johnson, being into town for all the Super Bowl festivities made the ultimate goal seem a little more attainable; never mind the team’s 3-14 2022 record.
“It was a bittersweet feeling,” Johnson said. “Being out there and seeing the environment and being able to be so close but not playing made me want to be better, made me want to win so much more to try to get to play in a game of that magnitude.”
Johnson, who started 11 games last season with 35 tackles and seven passes defended, has seen high-profile teammates come and go lately. Defensive end Robert Quinn was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII, Khalil Mack was sent to the Chargers, and Roquan Smith was shipped to the Baltimore Ravens.
But Johnson’s set to return for the final year of his rookie contract in 2023.
Next season will be a pivotal one for Johnson and the franchise as a whole. The Bears went from worst to first in the NFC North back in 2018. Perhaps another massive turnaround lies ahead, but a critical free agency period and draft are first and second on the docket.
For now, Johnson is drinking in the Super Bowl experiences with hopes of one day playing in the game rather than just taking it in.