Has Diontae Johnson Lived Up to His New Contract So Far?
This NFL offseason was the year of the wide receiver, with team after team lining up to shell out hundreds of million of dollars to the position in unprecedented fashion, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were no exception, giving top wide receiver Diontae Johnson a three-year, $36.7 million contract extension.
There are obviously still two games remaining in the 2022 season, and plenty of years left on a lot of those contracts, but 15 games is a large enough sample size to determine if, in this year at least, those teams got their money’s worth.
Compared to his previous standard, Diontae Johnson hasn’t had a great season or the Steelers. He has 82 catches on 130 targets for 809 yards and no touchdowns. He’s on pace for his worst statistical season since his rookie year. Last season, Johnson was targeted 169 times and caught 107 for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns.
Not all of that is under Johnson’s control. The Steelers passing offense has taken an overall downturn in making the exchange from Ben Roethlisberger to the combination of Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett, leading to fewer overall opportunities and fewer red zone opportunities for Johnson.
Obviously, in that regard, it’s been a somewhat disappointing year for the Steelers’ top wide receiver.
But Johnson’s production isn’t happening in a vacuum. When his contract was first announced during training camp, the consensus was that the Steelers got Johnson to sign for less than the going market rate. When I evaluated that market in the offseason, I determined that NFL teams were primarily valuing total receiving yards to set the contract value of a player.
So how has Johnson done compared to the rest of the receivers that got paid this offseason? It turns out, better than average.
Johnson’s contract has an average annual value of $18.355 million and he has 809 receiving yards, for a rate of $22,689 per receiving yard. The average receiver signed this offseason has been paid $24,515 per receiving yard, and Johnson is just on the positive side of the trend line when you plot the average annual value of receivers that signed contracts this offseason with their production so far.
The value of the contract given out to Johnson will of course need to be determined over the lifetime of the contract, and not one season, but so far, compared to the market surrounding him, it does seem that the Steelers got better than average value out of their singing of Johnson thus far.
The other thing to watch when it comes to Johnson’s contract value is if the wide receiver market will remain as hot as it was in 2022, or if that will stand out as an outlier going forward. But we won’t have data on that until free agency rolls around in March.