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Farabaugh: DK Metcalf Extension Hammers Home Unlikelihood of Diontae Johnson Deal

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Diontae Johnson Steelers

DK Metcalf signed a monster 3-year, $72 million extension on Thursday to stay with the Seattle Seahawks. The guarantees of the deal are up to $58.2 million of that guaranteed. If Terry McLaurin’s deal was sweet, this one might just be sweeter. The market for Diontae Johnson just got better, too.

It is hard to say that every single receiver contract needs to be spotlighted with Johnson’s situation, but it is the reality. Johnson is part of what was one of the more talented wide receiver drafts in recent memory — the 2019 NFL Draft. In that draft, McLaurin and Metcalf were joined by Deebo Samuel, Hunter Renfrow, A.J. Brown, and others. Johnson is surrounded by stars in that group, or at the very least, talented receivers.

Johnson is not the same type of player as Metcalf or Brown. He likely slots more into a mold of Renfrow, Samuel, and McLaurin. Even then, Johnson’s smooth routes and electric yards after the catch ability make him intriguing on all levels to the Steelers. For one, his production has gone up every season. It is the inconsistencies of his game that will hold him back from being a slam dunk to get a new contract from Pittsburgh.

Metcalf’s deal is going to shine a further illuminating light upon Johnson and the Steelers, however. Samuel and Johnson are the only two of the top group of receivers in the 2019 NFL Draft that have yet to be paid. With more and more public attention shifting to Johnson after Metcalf’s deal, did that deal change anything? What could actually happen here?

Let’s Talk Logistics About Diontae Johnson

Logistically speaking from both ends of the conversation, in order to see what would allow a deal to be struck between Johnson and the Steelers, an examination of both sides has to be done. For the Steelers, Johnson is a Pro Bowl wide receiver with great talent. Adding onto that fact is the very notion that it is hard to replace what Johnson brings. Elite route runners with the ability to make things happen in the open field are rare.

However, Johnson’s inconsistencies keep popping up. Yes, the drops are the obvious point. He improved upon those in 2021 and put in the hard work necessary to work on those. They came back with a vengeance late in the year, though. Johnson’s weird false start penalties. He registered 6 false starts last season, the most on the team. The rest of the wide receivers had one combined. Then, there was the playoff game in Kansas City. Of course, the pressure in these heightened games matters. But Johnson had a tough game due to the valleys of his game.

Johnson has a right to want his contract extension. He is a good NFL wide receiver. At the very least, he is a Top-25 receiver in the league. From the Steelers’ point of view, there is an insanely inflated wide receiver market out there as it stands. Christian Kirk kicked this off with an $18 million per year salary in free agency. Now, all of the wide receivers in that 2019 NFL Draft have received an extension over $20 million but Renfrow.

The Johnson Caveat

Johnson’s inconsistent, but he is talented. There is little to no reason for him to not ask for more than D.J. Moore’s deal, which averages over $20.6 million a year. Is that a reasonable range for the Steelers to fit Johnson into? It all depends on where they are comfortable in the guarantee structure. Another key fact about these deals is that the guarantees are huge. The first year at the very least is guaranteed, often with the second year guarantee as well.

Diontae Johnson would need to be paid handsomely in both gross average per year and guaranteed money. It is possible that he tries to go as high as $22 million per year. Either way, the Steelers may need to see another prove-it season to feel comfortable giving him that type of structure. Johnson’s camp has no reason to relent upon the $20 million per year threshold.

The fact that Johnson is so good but frustrating makes his case a tough one. Pittsburgh certainly should not want to see him go, but at the same time, paying him an exorbitant amount of money at this time could be a risky proposition. The likelihood of Johnson playing on his rookie deal this year and hitting the open market or being franchise tagged continues to grow by the day. Metcalf’s $24 million per year extension is showcasing just how big that roadblock for the two sides could be.

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