While it may not exactly be a splash signing, and we’re still far away from even the opening of training camp, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to sign David Johnson is an interesting one, considering it was not necessarily believed that they were still seeking help at the tight end position after they signed Ladarius Green in free agency.
Coincidentally, Green and Johnson have both spent the past two seasons playing for the Chargers before signing with Pittsburgh this offseason, but the latter, of course, was originally drafted by the Steelers in 2009 as a seventh-round draft pick.
He spent his first five seasons with the Steelers before signing a two-year contract with San Diego, during which time the team had also re-signed Matt Spaeth as well, and were working on converting Will Johnson to more of a tight end role. He also happens to now be the only player from the 2009 draft class on the roster.
Johnson and Johnson originally were set to compete for the starting fullback position in 2012, a battle that the latter Johnson, Will, ended up winning by default because David tore his ACL during the preseason. David ended up returning the following season and worked as a tight end until he landed on injured reserve again.
It is his versatility that is the most intriguing aspect of his signing, because it suggests in the wake of the free agent departure of Will Johnson that they were seeking such a player who can assume both the role of an in-line blocker as well as a lead blocker or pass protector out of the backfield. That is something that David had already done in Pittsburgh.
Of course, whatever role he serves is not likely to be a prominent one, given that the Steelers already have Green, Spaeth, and Jesse James at tight end and seem to be set on Roosevelt Nix at fullback—I don’t believe that Nix’s ‘starting’ fullback position is in jeopardy, especially given how little it is used.
But his presence on the roster would provide excellent insulation as a player who can fill in for multiple roles in an offense that requires that reserves be multiple. Green is not necessarily a highly regarded blocking tight end.
If either Spaeth or James get injured, his role as a blocker there would be significant to have on the back burner. Obviously if Nix were lost, as he was late in the season, it would be equally valuable to have him available, considering how they had to virtually abandon the two-back set without him last year.
All of this naturally presumes, obviously, that he does end up making the 53-man roster after signing what is expected to be a veteran-minimum contract on a one-year deal. He would also have to play special teams, which he did last season for the Chargers. Will Johnson once took over his role in the offense a few years back; perhaps David will now do the same to him returning to the team that drafted him.