New contract projections for Steelers WR Diontae Johnson are through the roof

Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Spotrac recently updated their contract projections for the 2023 free-agent wide receiver class, and Steelers Diontae Johnson is projected to break the bank.

As we approach Steelers training camp, Diontae Johnson has been a hot topic of discussion. Pittsburgh’s top wide receiver is entering a contract year and a recently inflated wide receiver market has stirred up much controversy as to what the Steelers should do with him.

Thanks to fellow 2019 draftmates like A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin breaking the bank this offseason, Johnson is next in line for a massive deal. However, it’s possible that his new contract numbers could come in even higher than we anticipated.

Early in the offseason, before the market was thrown out of wack, many NFL experts projected that Diontae Johnson would earn in the ballpark of $16-18 million per season in new money. Sadly, Steelers fans can kiss that dream goodbye.

Recently, updated its contract projections for some of the receivers of the 2023 free-agent class. They project Johnson earning a whopping $22 million in new annual earnings on his next deal.

This is second only to 49ers All-Pro receiver, Deebo Samuel, who earned 1,770 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns in 2021. Samuel also led all qualifying receivers in yards per reception (18.2) and his 11.6 yards per target was nearly double Johnson’s.

The Steelers receiver is projected to tie DK Metcalf in annual earnings and fall just short of Samuel’s numbers. Here’s a look at the contract projects of the top free-agent receivers next year:

The longer the Steelers wait to get a deal done, the higher these projections seem to climb. Should Pittsburgh cave to this inflated market?

This type of money is hard for Steelers to justify

I know that the market is the market. It’s not going to change anytime soon. While I think that Diontae Johnson is one of the top five players on the team and I think it’s necessary to keep him around, it’s also hard to justify that he deserves to be paid this much.

In my opinion, Johnson isn’t quite in the same tier as players like Terry McLaurin and A.J. Brown, while Deebo Samuel is a top-3 receiver in the game. Don’t let Johnson’s raw volume numbers trick you into believing he’s a better football player than he is.

In terms of efficiency, Johnson is very average. Though he did play with an aging Ben Roethlisberger (which certainly impacts these numbers), he has been aided by a whopping 405 targets in his first three seasons, via Pro Football Reference, so his numbers should be even better than what they are.

When comparing him to some of the best Steelers receivers in recent years, he’s no Antonio Brown. Johnson is much closer to players Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, and Santonio Holmes — players who didn’t receive second contracts in Pittsburgh.

At the same time, I do believe that it’s important to keep Johnson around for the sake of Kenny Pickett. With a new quarterback, Pittsburgh needs to make sure they give him every opportunity to succeed, and allowing their top wide receiver to walk away wouldn’t be helping.

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I think that Diontae Johnson is a very good football player, but these projected contract numbers for wide receivers are getting out of hand. I know that this is what the market demands and Johnson won’t settle for less, but it’s still not an easy decision to throw this kind of money at a good (but not elite) receiver.