What Bears Fans Have to Worry About: Big Dollar Complacency

Analysis: Montez Sweat, Jaylon Johnson and Cole Kmet were among Bears benefiting from big contract extensions but is a drop-off in production a possibility now?
Why Money Won't Change Jaylon Johnson.mp4
Why Money Won't Change Jaylon Johnson.mp4 /
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Fourth in a series looking at potential Bears issues in 2024

Montez Sweat's impact on the Bears defense last year almost seemed like the one Khalil Mack had on Vic Fangio's Bears defense of 2018.

It was sudden, dramatic, and his pass rush also helped immensely when all of the Bears secondary came back to full health at the time of his arrival. The Matt Eberflus defense began to look like it can actually work when the secondary didn't need to cover for 10 seconds on every play because of the threat of a sack.

Cornerback Jaylon Johnson last year was among those who took a step up and played at a level higher than in previous years with four interceptions. His All-Pro status, first Pro Bowl and rating as Pro Football Focus' No. 1 cornerback reflected this.

Both Sweat and Johnson were paid for their high level of play. They weren't the only ones to cash in as tight end Cole Kmet pulled in his second career contract later in a season when he produced a career-high 73 receptions.

It would be accurate to say Bears stars got paid. Where will they go from here?

Already there is evidence of what happens when all are not on board with everything. Sweat was among a few players who didn't take part in on-field voluntary work. The Bears are fond of saying "iron sharpens iron," but what happens when iron isn't there to sharpen anyone?

The Cardinals just noted what a great impact it made having Kyler Murray participate in offseason work this year. Iron sharpens iron.

It's not always accurate to depict well-paid players as content and satisfied to the point they underproduce. Yet, it is something everyone fears once a player gets the big pay day.

For Sweat it was a deal for four years and $98 million, Johnson four years and $76 million, Kmet four and $50 million. A team with players who were on the lower end of the pay scale suddenly started bringing in bigger contracts. Will they be the same players?

The Bears defense finally began closing in on top-10 status. They finished 12th and were playing at a top-5 level in the last half of the season. A defense without the same dominant edge rush or without the sharp emotional and physical edge Johnson seemed to play with could mean a step back.

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One answer to these and diminished levels of play for any reason rests is coach Matt Eberflus' HITS principle.

"I really feel that Montez is in a good spot," Eberlfus said. "Obviously his talent level is there and our system and the way our culture is really lets guys play at their highest level--meaning that we're going to make sure guys play at their max effort, max intensity, max preparation, because that’s the way we do it.

"We don't walk by mistakes here. We don't let things slide. Doesn't matter if you're Montez or you’re DJ or you're Caleb (Williams). That doesn't matter. We have a standard of how we operate and it’s coached by the coaches and enforced by the players."

Even players who had such a dramatic influence on the team's fortunes, like Sweat, are not above the HITS principle.

"He understood that coming in, too," Eberflus said. "He was very clear with our message on ahow we do things and he bought into it and he got better every single week. We anticipate that this year, too."

Yet, there is the lingering memory of what transpired after one recent large contract the Bears paid.

As the 2020 season ended, Eddie Jackson received what was the highest contract paid for an NFL safety at the time of four years and $58 million. This was from the former regime of GM Ryan Pace.

Jackson missed 13 games the last three seasons with injuries and in those three seasons gave up 10 touchdown passes, according to Sportradar. That was twice the total of the previous three seasons when he missed only two games. He was cut prior to 2024 free agency.

One year he was receiving the team's "Ballhawk Award," from Eberflus, and the next he was labeled dispensable.

The Bears think they have the answer to prevent any backsliding. It comes in two forms. One is the HITS principle. The other is simply the need to win.

There are too many players with talent on their roster who are starving for victory to let cash make anyone satisfied and they'll hold each other accountable. Johnson expressed this well.

"Everybody has skin in the game and everybody knows what we can do," Johnson said. "I feel like for me in that situation I had a lot to prove and pretty much have proven that I have some value on the defense and I have value on the field.

"I think really this unit, I think from what I'm able to feel for the most part, is we're a lot closer as far as relationship goes."

Johnson might have had the best answer when asked what his motivation is now after the contract and all the recognition he has been receiving.

"Being the best corner in the league," the fifth-year cornerback said.

This type of attitude doesn't allow for potential complacency.

Losing to the Packers all the time can help offset complacency, too.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven


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Gene Chamberlain

GENE CHAMBERLAIN

BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Chicago Bears full time as a beat writer since 1994 and prior to this on a part-time basis for 10 years. He covered the Bears as a beat writer for Suburban Chicago Newspapers, the Daily Southtown, Copley News Service and has been a contributor for the Daily Herald, the Associated Press, Bear Report, CBS Sports.com and The Sporting News. He also has worked a prep sports writer for Tribune Newspapers and Sun-Times newspapers.