As Steelers Depot’s very own salary cap wizard Dave Bryan pointed out following the conclusion of mandatory minicamp, the Pittsburgh Steelers currently sit at $20,325,877 under the cap, pending the signing of rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett and the small injury settlement amount hitting for cornerback Bryce Watts. While this looks like a ton of cap space for the Steelers to work with, Dave pointed out that a fair amount of this cap space has already been accounted for the 52nd and 53rd players on the active roster, the signing of the practice squad, and also the in-season cushion of cap space the Steelers have long operated with having at their disposal.
Still, while Pittsburgh may look to have a fair amount of this salary cap space already accounted for, this doesn’t mean that they have their hands tied to conduct the business of re-signing their own scheduled free agents after the 2022 season or look outside to add a free agent if they wish to do so. The full expectation is that Pittsburgh and S Minkah Fitzpatrick will come together once training camp gets underway to iron out a deal to make Fitzpatrick one of, if not the, highest-paid safeties in the game.
ST Coordinator Danny Smith also alluded to K Chris Boswell also likely getting a contract extension ‘at some point’. This could come prior to the start of the regular season, or possibly right before free agency starts in the 2023 offseason. Regardless, the expectation is that Boswell will join Fitzpatrick as one of the top paid players at his position.
What about WR Diontae Johnson? It has long been speculated that he is “unhappy” with his current contract situation heading into the final year of his rookie deal, and wants to cash in after seeing the likes of Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, D.J. Moore, Mike Williams, Cooper Kupp, and Christian Kirk cash in during a market explosion at the position this offseason. Still, Johnson has handed the situation well thus far, reporting to several OTA practices and mandatory minicamp and has handled the questions well in the post-practice press conferences, saying that he is just going to continue to work hard to be the best player he can in 2022 and let the contract negotiations work itself out.
GM Omar Khan recently praised Johnson’s mindset amidst the contract negotiation process, calling him a “class act” as detailed by Alex Kozora in a post. Pittsburgh has been known to let some of their bigger-name WRs walk over the years, but they have made the attempt to re-sign their own when the opportunity looked to yield favorable results.
The Steelers kept Hines Ward in Pittsburgh for the entirety of his NFL career and re-signed Antonio Brown to a deal that would prove to be a bargain for the production he would put up for the better part of a decade. They brought back JuJu Smith-Schuster on a one-year deal to see if he could regain his early career form, and reportedly offered the same contract to Plaxico Burress who opted to sign with the Giants instead. Guys like Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace would walk as free agents, but only after Pittsburgh made the choice to sign Brown. Santonio Holmes and Martavis Bryant were traded away after Pittsburgh recognized they had off-the-field issues that could become a problem which occurred for both.
So, could the Steelers opt to re-sign Diontae Johnson prior to the start of the 2022 season? It’s definitely plausible. Re-signing Fitzpatrick to a big-money extension could likely drop his cap hit in 2022, giving Pittsburgh a little more cap room to work with. As Dave has reiterated many times on The Terrible Podcast, Pittsburgh can make just about anything happen with the cap if they want to, especially since they have the option of restructuring T.J. Watt’s contract if they wish to do so. Pittsburgh did add George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin, and Gunner Olszewski to the WR room this offseason, but Johnson is coming off a career year and could take another step in his development with improved efficiency per target.
Given Khan’s recent comments, along with the added cap space after Stephon Tuitt retired, I have become more open to the plausibility that Pittsburgh may indeed re-sign Johnson during training camp. Personally, I thought all the moves Pittsburgh made to beef up the receiving core signaled the end for Johnson’s time in Pittsburgh after 2022, but with the salary cap expected to rise notably over the next several seasons as well as no longer having a franchise QB on the books, Johnson has a legit shot of sticking in Pittsburgh past the 2022 season.
He’s doing all the right things on the field and in the locker room to earn such and extension. Now, it comes down to if Khan and the rest of the front office staff want to get a deal done prior to the 2022 season getting underway.
What are your thoughts on Diontae Johnson heading into 2022? Do you think that the chances of him getting re-signed during training camp have risen the last couple of weeks? Do you think Pittsburgh re-signs him, or do you think they let him play out 2022 on the last year of his deal? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!