As it turns out, Diontae Johnson’s much-talked-about training camp “hold-in” didn’t last very long. According to ESPN senior NFL insider Adam Schefter and colleague Kimberly A. Martin, the fourth-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver has agreed to a two-year contract extension that “averages $18.355 million per year.”
In a subsequent tweet, Schefter reported that the deal is worth up to $39.5 million and includes $27 million guaranteed.
Here’s Johnson “celebrating his new contract with a sandwich in the St. Vincent cafeteria,” via Brooke Pryor of ESPN (from Marcus Allen’s Instagram).
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Diontae Johnson’s Contract Extension Appears to be a Win-Win
It’s easy to see how this deal works for both sides. Johnson gets a huge pay raise that puts him in the neighborhood of some of the top NFL wide receivers, 15 of which are now making $20 million per year or more. It also allows him to become a unrestricted free agent after the 2024 season, while he’s still only 29 years old.
The Steelers retain their No. 1 receiver for at least three more seasons, but their relatively modest total investment leaves the door open to retain other up-and-coming wideouts, including 2020 second-round pick Chase Claypool and — much further down the line — 2022 second-round pick George Pickens and 2022 fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III. That said, it’s probably no coincidence that Johnson will be coming off the books when Pickens and Austin have one year remaining on their rookie contracts.
Doing a short-term extension with Johnson also makes sense insofar as it doesn’t overcommit the organization to a player who may or may not be a true No. 1 receiver — and who has had on-and-off issues with dropped passes over the course of his career.
Johnson Had His Best Season to Date in 2021
Diontae Johnson has been with the Steelers since 2019, when the team made him a third-round pick (No. 66 overall) out of Toledo. He flashed No. 1 receiver potential right away, catching 59 passes for 680 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie before adding 88 catches and 923 yards and seven TDs in 2020, as per Pro Football Reference.
Last season he earned Pro Bowl honors for the first time, establishing career highs in catches (107), yards (1,161) and touchdown receptions (eight). Now he faces the challenge of establishing chemistry with a new starting quarterback — either free agent addition Mitch Trubisky, 2022 first-round pick Kenny Pickett, or veteran backup Mason Rudolph.
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A New Era in Steelers Contract Extensions?
Diontae Johnson’s deal also seems to reflect a new approach to extensions on the part of new general manager Omar Khan.
Former general manager Kevin Colbert almost always completed contract extensions with top players right before the start of the regular season, as was the case with outside linebacker T.J. Watt (2021) and defensive lineman Cam Heyward (2020). It’s still early in training camp, but Khan has already re-signed: All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to a market-setting deal; placekicker Chris Boswell to a record-tying deal; and now Diontae Johnson, with the Steelers formally announcing the extension early on Thursday afternoon.
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