Before practice got underway Thursday, it was announced that the Pittsburgh Steelers had signed wide receiver Diontae Johnson to a contract extension. Per initial reports on the signing, Johnson agreed on a two-year, $36.71 million extension that would keep the WR under contract with Pittsburgh through the 2024 season. Johnson was on the books for $2,954,118 million in 2022, meaning that he figures to make $39,664,118 over the next three seasons should the initial numbers prove to be accurate.
Just two days prior, GM Omar Khan addressed the media and said that he had been in conversations with Diontae’s representatives, stating that he wanted Johnson “to be a Steeler for a long time”. Khan made good on his word, ironing out a contract extension with the 2021 Pro Bowler nearly 48 hours later.
A few things stick out when looking at the deal as reported. First, the average yearly value of the contract came in notably lower than what was expected. After fellow 2019 NFL Draftmates Terry McLaurin, A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and Deebo Samuel all signed extensions well over $20 million per year, it was long believed that a yearly take home of $20 million would be the absolute floor for Johnson, with $21-22 million being a more realistic number. Johnson signed for just over $18 million per season, which comes in as a discount from what Johnson was likely seeking.
Dave Bryan mentioned in a recent edition of The Terrible Podcast that he expects Johnson’s camp to give a little if a deal is reached, and that just so happened to be the case. If you disperse the total amount of money Johnson is due for on the new three-year pact at $39,664,118, the new money average comes to $18.355 million. Given the contracts the other WRs signed this offseason, the total amount as well as the new money average proves to be a big win for Pittsburgh.
Another thing that sticks out about the contract is the length of the extension. Johnson and the Steelers agreed to a two-year extension, which is far shorter than what was expected. Samuel, McLaurin, and Metcalf agreed to three-year extensions with their respective franchises, whereas Brown got a four-year deal from the Eagles, making Johnson’s extension more like the one Hunter Renfrow agreed to this offseason, which was two years of new money for a total of $31.7 million. From Johnson’s perspective, this allows him to get back into the market sooner as a free agent in 2025 before his age 30 season.
However, this shorter deal also benefits the Steelers for several reasons. First, it locks in their #1 option in the passing game for three seasons. Second, it gives them time to evaluate the other young options they have in the room, including Chase Claypool going into Year 3 as well as rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III, to see if they can make the leap to become legitimate threats in the passing attack and potentially develop into #1 options themselves. Third, it puts Diontae Johnson in a prove-it situation where he has the opportunity to show that he can continue to produce at a Pro Bowl caliber level without Ben Roethlisberger as the team’s starting QB.
Johnson has shown improvement each season since coming into the league in 2019 as a third-round draft pick, developing into a nuanced route runner that became Ben’s go-to target in the passing game the last two seasons. However, while Johnson was hyper-targeted by Ben with 313 targets the last two seasons, his efficiency on a per-target basis hasn’t been great given his role in a dink-and-dunk passing game. With Roethlisberger no longer under center, Johnson may get the opportunity to be utilized more down the field like he showed on occasion the last couple years, but also must prove that he can still be a dominant weapon in the passing game without Ben force-feeding him targets.
Overall, the contract extension is a win for Johnson who gets to put $19 million into his pocket in 2022, a big pay raise from the $2,954,118 million he was scheduled to make with the extra game check. He also avoids playing the franchise tag game, having to bet on himself and stay healthy to cash in at a later date. Still, the deal proves to be a huge win for Khan and the Pittsburgh Steelers from an average yearly value standpoint as well as a length standpoint. They don’t pay top dollar in an exploding WR market and get the opportunity to see if Johnson can prove he deserves elite WR money the next three seasons while still giving their new starting QB a reliable weapon they can target early and often this season.
What are your thoughts on the Diontae Johnson contract extension? Do you think Khan and the Steelers did well in the structure of the deal? What is your reasoning? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!