An NFL spending spree at the wide receiver position this offseason could make it harder for the Pittsburgh Steelers in negotiations to lock up Diontae Johnson to a long-term contract.
The Buffalo Bills agreed to a four-year, $104 million contract extension with wide receiver Stephon Diggs on Wednesday, the latest in a number of big-money contracts handed out to wide receivers this offseason.
Diggs’ big deal came after the Las Vegas Raiders gave Devante Adams $141.25 million over five years and Tyreek Hill signed a four-year, $120 million extension with the Miami Dolphins.
In free agency, Christian Kirk got a four-year, $72 million deal from the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Allen Robinson II cashed in for three years, $46.5 million from the Los Angeles Rams.
The spending at the wide receiver position hasn’t impacted the Steelers so far, as the team let free agents Ray-Ray McCloud, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington all walk. Those three largely missed the wide receiver gravy train, at any rate, with Smith-Schuster signing an incentive-laden contract with base value of just $3.25 million over one season.
But if the Steelers want to secure the rights of Johnson, whose contract ends after the 2022 season, it may have gotten more expensive to do so. After Diggs’ deal, salary tracking website Spotrac released their market valuations for wide receivers still under contract, and estimated that Johnson is worth $88 million over four years.
That would be the largest contract the Steelers have ever given to a wide receiver by a large margin. The team shelled out $68 million over four years for Antonio Brown in 2017. At the time, that deal made Brown the highest-paid wide receiver in league history.
That shows just how much times have changed, as Diggs will earn half again as much as Brown on a per-season basis if he fulfills his new contract with the Bills, and Hill’s deal is worth 75% more per season than Brown’s was with the Steelers.
If history is a guide, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert won’t rush to action when it comes to re-signing players still under contract for the upcoming season. Last year, T.J. Watt’s negotiations with the Steelers went all the way to the precipice of the regular season, and Colbert did not indicate a change in strategy when asked about Fitzpatrick and Johnson at the 2022 NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
But the team is reportedly already closing in on an extension with free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. With Colbert in his final offseason as general manager, things could happen sooner than expected this summer. But if that’s the case with Johnson, the Steelers should expect to pay a significant premium for their talented receiver.