There are probably some who are not interested in hearing this, but I was surprised and disappointed by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to move on from veteran tight end David Johnson, who has been their only consistent performer over the course of the past two summers, and during last season, since he was brought back to the team.
A former 2009 seventh-round draft pick, who started out in the backfield as a fullback, Johnson spent two years with the Chargers in 2014 and 2015 before being brought back last year in order to aid in the Steelers’ transition from Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, two long-time staples at the position.
The team recognized the fact that his blocking ability was unique on the roster by the end of the season, given that by then they were utilizing him as the lone tight end in certain running situations, often either paired with a fullback or an extra lineman while Jesse James watched from the bench.
While he is never going to be mistaken for Jimmy Graham, I have long believed that Johnson is a more capable pass-catcher, at least as far as his hands go, than would be suggested by his usage in that area, even if he is not much of a threat for run after the catch. I recall a nifty one-handed reception on a pass thrown behind him on a two-point conversion last year, as captured in the display image above.
It is somewhat counterintuitive that it was Johnson who was released when he was the most consistent performer between himself, James, and Xavier Grimble throughout the offseason process, but evidently they believe that Vance McDonald will be able to absorb quite a bit, if not all, of Johnson’s duties.
I do admit that I hold out some small hope that he could be brought back. Given that he is the only vested veteran of the group outside of McDonald, Johnson’s release would be outright, and would not subject him to waivers, which means that the team could have a wink and nod arrangement to bring him back.
This could either come after they presumably move Cameron Sutton to injured reserve—although they would then still have to make an additional move to accommodate Le’Veon Bell when he signs his franchise tender—or it could even come after Week One, after which his salary for the full season would not be guaranteed—another perk of being a vested veteran.
While often maligned by some, especially for his missed block as a fullback in the Super Bowl during his second season, I confess that I have always been a fan of Johnson’s, simply a blue-collar performer who does what is asked of him, and who has improved over the years.
That said, this sort of end-of-roster move is ultimately not going to affect things very much, and it is true that Grimble has improved as a blocker. I have always liked Grimble’s potential, but it is a matter of him finding consistency in his game.