The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2022 offseason with 17 unrestricted free agents, including three members of last season’s wide receiver corps—JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud. In addition to making determinations about those three, the Steelers also need to think about whether to extend the contract of Diontae Johnson, who has one year left on his rookie deal and could hit free agency in early 2023.
According to Andrew Fillipponi of 93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh), Johnson is looking for a contract extension—“something in the neighborhood of a 5 year, $75 million deal.”
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Diontae Johnson: Part-Time No. 1 WR?
Assuming that’s true, it seems conceivable that the Steelers might be able to renew with Johnson before the 2022 season gets underway. The challenge with deciding to move forward on an extension with Johnson is his inconsistency. At times he plays like a No. 1 wide receiver, but he also has stretches where his dropped passes are a huge liability, like the final month of last season.
But it’s hard to ignore that Johnson managed to catch 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021, even with a 39-year-old quarterback who was on his last legs. Moreover, his production has improved every year, going from 59 catches with 680 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie to 88 receptions and 923 yards with seven touchdowns in his sophomore season.
Working against the former third-round pick (Toledo, 2019) is the fact that the Steelers rarely sign wide receivers to second contracts, with Hines Ward, Antonio Brown (and most recently, JuJu Smith-Schuster) being the rare exceptions.
The Steelers also have to think about whether they might want to extend 2020 second-round pick Chase Claypool at some point in the future. Claypool regressed in his second season (59 catches, 860 yards, two touchdown catches), but Ben Roethlisberger’s inability to get the ball down the field on anything other than a go route was perhaps a huge factor in limiting Claypool’s production.
Maturity issues are also a consideration with Claypool, who was involved in more than his share of controversy last season, with incidents ranging from his ill-advised first-down celebration against the Minnesota Vikings to being tangentially involved in a bar fight outside a Southern California tavern in March 2021.
Finally, another consideration is whether the Steelers want to try to re-sign JuJu Smith-Schuster, who inked a one-year contract for 2021 but may be aiming to catch on with a team with a better quarterback situation, like the Kansas City Chiefs.
Steelers Hire New Wide Receiver’s Coach
Jackson spent the last two seasons with the Carolina Panthers, where he served as receivers coach in 2020 and offensive passing game coordinator/receivers coach in 2021.
In other news, Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that the Steelers have requested permission to interview Colts college scouting director Morocco Brown for the team’s soon-to-be available general manager job.
There are now at least five external candidates for G.M., including ESPN commentator Louis Riddick and the three individuals named on February 4, 2022. The Steelers also have a pair of internal candidates in Omar Khan and Brandon Hunt.
Brooke Pryor, who covers the Steelers for ESPN, has suggested that the organization is looking to pair “cap wizard” Omar Khan with someone with a scouting background.
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