The Pittsburgh Steelers signed wide receiver Diontae Johnson to a two-year contract extension worth $36.71 million with a max value up to $39.5 million on Thursday afternoon, according to multiple reports. The contract contains $27 million in guarantees. Johnson will earn approximately $18.355 million annually, which makes him one of the top 20 highest-paid receivers in the league. This short-term contract extension makes sense for all parties involved.
It’s been the summer of the wide receiver. Johnson’s extension arrives just days after D.K. Metcalf and Deebo Samuel signed lucrative extensions themselves. Johnson was previously “holding in” at training camp, which means he was physically present but not an active participant. This allowed Johnson to avoid being fined for an absence while ensuring he remained healthy throughout negotiations.
The Steelers have been taking care of business this offseason. Johnson’s new deal arrives after superstar safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and long-term kicker Chris Boswell received their own extensions. Johnson had to wait his turn, but his patience was duly rewarded.
The 66th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, Johnson was scheduled to enter the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. Johnson was set to earn just a tad north of $2.7 million in 2022 due to his third-round draft slot, per Spotrac. Johnson was being vastly underpaid. That coupled with the lack of long-term security promoted Johnson’s representation to jumpstart negotiations. It’s worth noting Johnson’s extension was added onto the remaining year of his original rookie contract, which means Pittsburgh controls his fate for the next three seasons, which takes them through the 2024 campaign (and then there’s always the franchise tag).
Johnson enjoyed a career-best campaign in 2021 en route to earning a nod as a Pro Bowl replacement. The former Toledo standout recorded career-highs in receptions (107), receiving yards (1,161), and touchdowns (8) despite playing in a middling Steelers passing offense. The Steelers are preparing to break in a new passing offense.
A three-way quarterback battle between Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, and Mason Rudolph continues to underwhelm at training camp. Johnson will help whoever starts under center for the Steelers by providing the quarterback with a reliable target underneath the coverage. Look for Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback to pepper Johnson with targets. The Steelers should find comfort in knowing Johnson can remain productive if they re-encounter last year’s passing-game struggles in 2022. Johnson proved that much playing alongside a dwindling Ben Roethlisberger last season.
The two-year term is particularly noteworthy. Of the 10-plus receivers that signed lucrative extensions this summer, Houston’s Brandin Cooks was the only other receiver to sign for two seasons. Signing a two-year extension could allow Johnson to reach free agency at 29 years old. It almost guarantees Johnson will sign another lucrative contract at the expiration of this newly-minted deal, whether in Pittsburgh or elsewhere. It also allows Steelers General Manager Omar Khan to quickly rid himself of Johnson’s contract should their relationship deteriorate. Both sides had their reasons for agreeing to a short-term extension.
The Steelers are set to field an intriguing receiver trio in 2022. Johnson’s continued participation is massive for their receiving corps. Chase Claypool is aiming to develop into a dominant boundary receiver in his third professional season. Rookie playmaker George Pickens has consistently flashed throughout training camp and is a candidate to quickly earn a role via three-receiver sets. This group has the potential to shock opposing defenses.
The Steelers are ushering in a new era now that Roethlisberger is no longer under center. Head coach Mike Tomlin has never experienced a losing campaign since taking over the Steelers in 2007. Pittsburgh faces an uphill battle to compete with the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Cleveland Browns for the AFC North title. Retaining Johnson makes Pittsburgh a better football team moving forward.
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