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Diontae Johnson is the last WR standing without an extension

After an offseason stuffed to the brim with large receiver extensions, Pittsburgh Steelers WR Diontae Johnson is the last mast standing. While he’s began contract negotiations with the Steelers, it’s unclear if Johnson will come to an settlement earlier than the common season, and he’s at present staging a hold-in at coaching camp.

Johnson has each purpose to attend for what he deems a good contract. Given what number of pending free agent wideouts just lately took themselves off the board, Johnson would simply be the finest out there cross catcher in 2023.

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Diontae Johnson holding out for extension

Take a look at any checklist of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL and also you’ll shortly notice simply what number of extensions have been signed this offseason. Eleven of the 14 most expensive WR contracts in the league have been agreed to this yr, and all of them topped the $20 million per yr threshold. And that checklist doesn’t even embrace Christian Kirk’s $18 million cope with the Jaguars, which arguably set the wideout-centric 2022 offseason in movement.

Beyond blowing up the large receiver market, these extensions additionally had one other cascading impact: the 2023 free agent WR market is now a wasteland. A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, DJ Moore, Mike Williams, and Chris Godwin might have all hit the open market subsequent spring, however they’re now underneath contract for years to come back.

Johnson is the finest 2023 free agent wideout who’s but to signal an extension. JuJu Smith-Schuster is in all probability the second-best pending free agent, and he might elevate his inventory whereas catching passes from Patrick Mahomes this yr. But there’s a gargantuan hole between these two and the likes of Allen Lazard, DJ Chark, Deonte Harty, and Mecole Hardman, who’re all helpful gamers in their very own proper however not at present on tempo for an enormous extension.

The 26-year-old Johnson might write his personal ticket after posting 195 receptions for two,084 yards and 15 touchdowns over the previous two seasons. Given the offseason we simply noticed, how excessive might Johnson push his annual common worth if he’s free to market his companies to each NFL staff?

His 2022 manufacturing would clearly be central to his subsequent contract, however the free agent market is the Wild West. No one thought Kirk was going to get $18 million per yr, but it surely solely takes one staff. Would or not it’s completely stunning if Johnson discovered a membership keen to take him previous the $25 million mark and get him near Cooper Kupp and DeAndre Hopkins at $26-27 million?

Of course, the Steelers would nonetheless have an choice of their again pocket: the franchise tag. One yr of the tag would value Pittsburgh roughly $18.419 million, whereas they might theoretically hold Johnson by way of 2023 with two franchise tenders totaling about $40.5 million.

What will a Johnson extension appear like?

Johnson and his agent, Brad Cicala (who has been at the Steelers’ training camp this week), will possible disregard Moore’s extension with the Panthers when searching for comparable offers. Moore merely jumped the gun by inking a brand new deal on March 18, simply earlier than the large receiver market went loopy. He now lags behind the remainder of his class with a $20.628 million AAV.

Johnson’s extra lifelike comps are Brown, Metcalf, Samuel, and McLaurin, all of whom signed extensions with AAVs between $23.2 million and $25 million. Brown’s contract with the Eagles is a bit of wonky, and it’s inflated by a never-to-be-reached $41+ million cap cost in 2026. But this is Johnson’s basic vary, and he’s possible focusing on ensures in the $53-59 million neighborhood.

“When things happen, it adds to the conversation, let’s put it that way,” Steelers basic supervisor Omar Khan instructed reporters this week, acknowledging the latest spate of WR extensions. “It is the function of the times and the system that we are in. It is part of the process. Regardless of the position, I assume those will keep growing. As the CBA grows, the contracts grow.”

Khan, now in his first season as Pittsburgh’s GM after spending years as the staff’s prime negotiator, is seemingly behind the Steelers’ determination to change their acceptable contract construction. While Pittsburgh was beforehand one among the few NFL groups that refused to supply assured wage after the first yr of offers, that’s just lately modified.

The Steelers first broke their rule with Ben Roethlisberger, however that may very well be defined away by positional worth, as quarterback contracts are basically their very own separate entity. But Pittsburgh additionally gave further years of assured wage to edge rusher T.J. Watt and security Minkah Fitzpatrick whereas making them each the highest-paid participant at their respective positions.

Johnson will need assured cash by way of at the very least the second yr of a possible extension, and it is going to be tough for Khan and the Steelers to say no after they’ve already damaged the seal with Watt and Fitzpatrick.

The Steelers aren’t afraid to let large receivers stroll

The Steelers are among the NFL’s best teams at drafting wide receivers, however they haven’t at all times retained the mid-round gems they unearthed in the draft. They let Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders depart for multi-year contracts with rival groups in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and Smith-Schuster is now gone after an affordable one-year deal saved him in Pittsburgh in 2021.

Admittedly, the Steelers nonetheless had Antonio Brown on their roster when Wallace and Sanders departed, they usually don’t at present have a participant of Brown’s caliber able to fill in if Johnson leaves. Nevertheless, they’ve began to restock.

Pittsburgh made Chase Claypool the forty ninth total decide in the 2020 NFL Draft earlier than deciding on Georgia’s George Pickens (No. 50) and Memphis’ Calvin Austin III (No. 138) this yr. Claypool is going through a vital yr for his growth, and Pickens and Austin nonetheless must show themselves, however the items might doubtlessly be there if Johnson walks.

Khan possible doesn’t need to get backed right into a negotiating nook, however he additionally doesn’t need to lose his finest offensive participant. Johnson needs to hitch the large receiver contract get together, however he may also see the riches which may await him in 2023. If the two sides can’t agree on a brand new deal earlier than the common season will get underway, we could also be having this identical dialog in March.

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