We have already written a couple of times about veteran tight end David Johnson over the course of the past few days, myself in particular admittedly, but given that he is now back in the fold with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and given the context in which that occurred, I think it would be fitting to try to put that signing into some perspective as it relates to later in the year.
The first thing that should be noted is the fact that Johnson most likely would have been re-signed back in February had the Steelers been able to, but that was not a possibility for the sort of contract that the team wanted to sign him to.
Veteran players who are eligible for and receive a qualifying contract are not permitted to be re-signed to a new contract prior to the start of free agency unless it is another veteran-minimum qualifying contract. As I noted in the comments section of the original article noting his re-signing, this is why the team was able to get Greg Warren back under the books but not Johnson due to his two-year deal.
While financial terms were not yet disclosed, chances are the contract came in averaging not much more than $1 million or so per season, but it was enough of a boost in his compensation to make a difference, and will likely be similar to Matt Spaeth’s last deal.
Which should be fitting, given that he is probably going to be asked to pretty much fill the sort of role that Spaeth filled, only with a greater deal of variety because he is a more mobile option to be used as a leader blocker. He also, of course, has the versatility of lining up in the backfield if necessary.
If I were to guess, I would say that the Steelers were pleasantly surprised by what they saw in Johnson last season in his return to the team after spending the previous two seasons with the Chargers. And the best news is that he has been able to remain healthy for the past couple of seasons.
Johnson’s signing initially had the look of an afterthought, only brought in mid-May well after the draft and after they learned that Spaeth would no longer be an option for them. The former seventh-round pick did not even receive a signing bonus, which is relatively uncommon for the Steelers.
But when he did come in, he did so eagerly and after having dropped some weight. I believe his weight loss attributed to greater mobility that served him well as a pulling lead blocker from the tight end position, a role that he served on a number of plays.
It will be interesting to see how the depth chart continues to develop over the course of the year, but given the team’s willingness to give Johnson two years, I would think that they have a plan for him, while Xavier Grimble will have a harder time for himself this year to find and retain a roster spot.