While the Super Bowl is still a few days away, the reality is that the true start of the ‘offseason’, and the start of the new league year, is fast approaching in mid-March. Like the rest of the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have plenty of business to attend to beforehand.
One bit of business that won’t be done anywhere near the start of the new league year is a potential contract extension for wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who will be playing out the final year of his rookie contract in 2022 if things stand as they are.
Typically, the Steelers, like most teams, like to get key players under contract before they are scheduled to hit the open market, as Johnson would be in 2023, but as always, it takes two parties to get a deal done. It remains to be seen what the team’s approach will be, especially with a change in general manager.
Should the Steelers end up working out an extension with Johnson, however, Pro Football Focus recently took a stab at projecting what that deal might look like in looking at some of the early extension candidates. They see the 2021 Pro Bowler earning a four-year extension worth $64 million, which works out to an annual average of $16 million.
$16 million, by the way, is right in line with the market, especially when you account for inevitable growth. There are 17 wide receivers averaging at least $15 million right now, with names like Courtland Sutton, Robby Anderson, Jarvis Landry, Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, Adam Thielen, Brandin Cooks, and Robert Woods in that range.
It should be noted right off the bat, however, that the team’s priority in terms of extensions this offseason is going to be with former All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. While he did not earn any post-season distinctions in 2021, he remains one of the top free safeties in football, and he will not be cheap nor simple to retain.
Johnson’s contract would come secondary to that, so that’s the starting point. The team has not extended the contract of a wide receiver beyond the one-year deal they did with JuJu Smith-Schuster last year since Antonio Brown—and before him, it was Hines Ward.
One notable point that Brad Spielberger makes in his analysis is that the Steelers haven’t necessarily had to pay the wide receiver position with a Hall of Fame quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, who was capable of making all kinds of receivers look good. That won’t be the case next year and likely beyond.
Another bit of interesting information in the article is a graphic charting target rate versus accuracy rate of targets. Johnson was by far one of the most frequently targeted players, behind only Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp, over the past two years, yet the accuracy of his targets was well below average—in the negative, in fact, against accuracy expectation.
That would seem to suggest to me that he is all the more important to keep around, if he can catch 100 balls while being thrown inaccurate targets. He may have some drop issues, but he makes up for it in the plays he does make.
Granted, there will be some human error in the numbers for being unable to distinguish between an inaccurate pass and a wrong route run, but that would apply to everybody in their numbers, and Johnson’s targets graded against the same standard for everybody else skew heavily to the less-accurate-than-they-should-be side.