Bengals Waive Ex-Steelers Lineman Minutes After Signing Him: Report

Fred Johnson with Ben Roethlisberger

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images Fred Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020.

It appears that the Cincinnati Bengals have had a case of buyer’s remorse. On the morning of March 22, the team announced that it had signed former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Fred Johnson to a one-year contract, having previously tendered him as a restricted free agent.

But less than 30 minutes after the Bengals tweeted that they’d re-signed Johnson, ESPN’s Adam Schefter followed up to report that the Bengals would be waiving Johnson, calling the situation “a unique one.”

Johnson, who will be 25 when the 2022 season starts, “recently signed his restricted free agent tender, but after signing offensive tackle La’el Collins, the Bengals have decided to waive Johnson, who can be claimed” by another team, Schefter wrote.

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Fred Johnson Entered the NFL With the Steelers

The waiving of Johnson provides Pittsburgh with the chance to possibly bring him back.

Johnson — who is listed at 6-foot-7 and 326 pounds — came into the NFL with the Steelers, signing as an undrafted free agent in 2019 after a career at the University of Florida. He looked good in both training camp and the preseason but needed time to develop, said offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett in August 2019.

He never got that chance — at least not in Pittsburgh — because the Steelers waived Johnson in mid-October 2019 (along with outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott) to make room for running back Trey Edmunds and quarterback Paxton Lynch. The Steelers planned to bring Johnson back if he cleared waivers, but the Bengals claimed him and ended up starting him against the Steelers at left tackle later that same season.

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Fred Johnson Has 23 Games of NFL Experience

Johnson has been with the Bengals ever since, appearing in 23 games (with eight starts) over the course of the past three seasons, having played 58% of Cincinnati’s offensive snaps in 2020, when he saw the largest share of his playing time, according to Pro Football Reference. Pro Football Focus graded Johnson with an 81.0, tied for 12th among all tackles with no minimum snap count.

Johnson is unusually versatile for a lineman of his size, making starts at both guard and tackle. As a restricted free agent, he had been slated to earn $2.43 million in 2022, according to Over the Cap.

As for La’el Collins, he comes to Cincinnati via the Dallas Cowboys on a three-year contract that can be best-described as a “two-year, $20 million deal worth up to $22 million. The third year was added to help prorate the deal and spread out Cincinnati’s cap charge,” wrote ESPN staff writer Ben Baby on March 20.

49ers Announce the Signing of Ex-Steelers WR/KR Ray-Ray McCloud

Meanwhile, on March 22 the San Francisco 49ers officially announced the signing of former Steelers wide receiver/kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud. The news of McCloud’s deal with the 49ers first emerged on March 17, with a tweet by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, McCloud’s contract is for two years and worth up to $10.4 million.

The Steelers have since replaced McCloud with former Patriots All-Pro Gunner Olszewski, whose deal is also for two years but worth a comparatively small $4.2 million.

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