What could have lasted throughout all of training camp and right up to the season with Fitzpatrick instead ended before it even started, when the Steelers signed Minkah Fitzpatrick on Thursday.
Fitzpatrick’s massive contract will give the Steelers three bigger contracts on defense with him, T.J. Watt, and Cam Heyward. Those guys are worth their contracts, and the Steelers have spent a lot of money to build what is a veteran defense. That defense is the most expensive in the league.
On the flip side of that, the offense is extremely young, and in terms of salaries, it is the cheapest offense in the NFL. There is someone on that offense who is coming up on their contract status in Diontae Johnson. With Fitzpatrick’s contract out of the way, that seemingly paves the way for Johnson to take front and center for Omar Khan and company.
While that could be the case, the Steelers need to think about kicker Chris Boswell as well. The Steelers have plenty of cap flexibility to do what they wish with these deals. Johnson and Boswell, on top of Fitzpatrick, can get extended with little to no worry for 2022. The Steelers are going to have to see who they prioritize.
Johnson’s up and down play at times is what gives pause to anyone who might pay him what he wants. There is a very good chance that Johnson could be paid more than $20 million per year. For the contemporaries at his position, Johnson slots in favorably against some players getting that much money. If they want Johnson, the Steelers will have to pay that kind of money.
In reality, the question is all about how much of a priority that Johnson is for the Steelers. The important thing to consider here is they now have the time to sit down with Johnson and his reps to think about what a theoretical contract could look like. Just like any team, the Steelers will have their range and Johnson will have the number he wants. Johnson mentioned during minicamp that he really wants to stay in Pittsburgh. There will be discussions about how much guaranteed money is appropriate and the usual give-and-take of negotiations.
So what Fitzpatrick’s contract really means for Johnson is that there is more time to get a deal done. . This is the earliest the Steelers have extended their top star of contract season in recent memory. New general manager Omar Khan seems to have done that purposefully.
If negotiations on a long-term deal fall through, a simple one-year extension could make sense. Johnson could get a needed raise that he sees fit, and hits free agency only a year later. The Steelers get some security at the wide receiver and get to evaluate another season of Johnson. It also avoids any fiasco of a potential franchise tag, thus giving thw two sides more time in 2023 to work things out.
As for Boswell, the likelihood of that contract ocurring grows by that. It would be a geniune surprise if Boswell does not get an extension this training camp. Special teams coach Danny Smith even said that it was likely an extension was coming soon. Like Fitzpatrick, Boswell is likely to reset the market, even over Justin Tucker. Given how solid he has been for Pittsburgh, this contract should be an easy high priority situation.
Is it likelier to bet on Boswell’s happening first. That is a situation that the Steelers should have no questions about. Boswell is one of the best kickers in the NFL and has been for a while. Johnson’s inconsistencies muddy the waters a little bit. He is no doubt a talented player, but how much is too much for Pittsburgh?
If Johnson and the Steelers are to find common ground in the time between now and the start of the regular season, that could open up entirely new possibilities for a contract. There is a possibility to be flexible and go with a shorter contract model rather than one that locks Johnson down for too long. It could be the compromise that both sides are looking for in general. Or we could see Johnson hitting free agency next March.