Training camps are in full swing around the NFL, and naturally, fans have questions about their respective squads. That’s why Pro Football Network likes to open up the weekly mailbag every Friday to keep you informed with NFL news, rumors, and analysis.
NFL News and Rumors Mailbag: Steelers, Giants, and more
Thoughts on Diontae Johnson’s new deal with the Steelers?
When the news broke around 12:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, I was a bit perplexed. While Johnson and the Pittsburgh Steelers are resolving a “hold in” situation, the contract doesn’t make a ton of sense for Johnson, outside of immediate satisfaction.
As PFN Insider Aaron Wilson has confirmed, Johnson and the Steelers will tack on two years and $36.71 million onto the final year of his rookie contract. He will receive $19 million in Year 1 of the extension, and $27 million in new money is guaranteed, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
What does this deal mean?
For one, Johnson will get back on the field, which is a win for the Steelers. He will also be making a relatively affordable salary over the next three years compared to the market that ballooned this offseason, which is another win for the squad.
While Johnson has only one 1,000-yard season under his belt, his trajectory has continued to rise throughout his career since being drafted in the third round in 2019. The Steelers know this, and that’s why investing in a surging talent on a team-friendly deal made sense for them.
Johnson hasn’t reached top-10 status just yet, but his value to the Steelers is notable. He’s coming off a Pro Bowl campaign where he caught 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns.
New Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Christian Kirk exploded the market in free agency, but he’s never made a Pro Bowl, had a 1,000-yard season, or caught more than 80 passes, let alone been a top-two option in a passing attack.
And yet, Johnson is vaguely making a bit more annually in new money compared to Kirk, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal in March. While Kirk had the leverage of the open market on his side, Johnson had an expiring contract and a breakout year on his.
Johnson clearly wanted to cash in now, which is understandable. However, he probably was worth more per year than he received from the Steelers, who own his rights for three years.
Johnson was set to make $2.79 million this season. So, over the span of his reworked deal, he will make an average of just $13.16 million per year. There are 26 wideouts paid more on average annually — 14 make over $20 million. Miami Dolphins wideout Tyreek Hill is averaging $30 million per season, which is larger than the entire guaranteed amount given to Johnson on his new deal.
Sure, Johnson just turned 26 last month, and he’ll get to test free agency again before 30 with the market continuing to bulge. But, as of right now, his quarterbacks are Mitch Trubisky, a redemption-story passer on a two-year deal, and first-round rookie Kenny Pickett, who is probably going to need the length of Johnson’s deal to reach his potential as a top-tier QB. There stands a chance that Johnson’s production is mitigated by his quarterback’s talent and the emergence of fellow playmaker Chase Claypool.
Johnson is an ascending player. The Steelers have a history of playing hardball with dynamic receivers because their scouting department does a phenomenal job replacing them, but this just seems to be a rushed deal on the player side. Johnson had a pair of franchise tags to leverage without a new contract, and now he’s basically making veteran No. 1 wideout minimum wage.
Here’s hoping that Johnson can outperform last year’s breakout over the next two years and force the Steelers to extend his deal again in 2024. If not, this deal will look pretty rough down the road.
Where do you see Wan’Dale Robinson fitting into the Giants’ offense?
PFN has been to a couple of New York Giants workouts since Wan’Dale Robinson was selected in the second round in April. Robinson was a standout in OTAs, and he made a couple of nice plays during the Giants’ training camp practice on Monday.
Robinson has really impressive lateral quickness and the ability to gain yards after the catch. Running seam and slant routes would appear to be his best usage and working the slot regularly could help him take advantage of his skills. Robinson and Sterling Shepard could rotate at the Z and slot spots with Kenny Golladay at the X position. Eventually, Robinson will take off as the No. 2 wideout in the offense.
At 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, Robinson is a smaller player, so it’s important to not put him in harm’s way too often. Giants head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka are both really creative, so there’s a strong chance that Robinson is used on gadget plays as well.
Are there any standout undrafted first-year players in any of the camps you’ve seen to date?
This is an interesting question because I found myself pondering the same thing in the car the other day. While I’m used to covering the same team day in and day out and identifying the under-the-radar players, I’ve only been able to receive glimpses of squads in daily visits thus far.
That said, I have been to two Eagles training camp practices, and with each one, undrafted cornerback Mario Goodrich has made a pass breakup.
The Eagles will probably keep five or six cornerbacks, and Darius Slay, James Bradberry, and Avonte Maddox are locks for the 53-man roster. The team also has promising youngsters Zech McPhearson, Tay Gowan, Mac McCain, and Kary Vincent battling for jobs. So, Goodrich would need to outperform at least two members of that quartet to stick around.
Undrafted wideout Keshunn Abram had a couple of really impressive catches on Saturday at Jets training camp. Backup QB Joe Flacco made a highlight toss to an out route by Abram, who was able to haul in the ball with a tippy-toe reception on the sideline. Abram has an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster with Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, Braxton Berrios, Corey Davis, and Denzel Mims in front of him and several others vying for spots.
In my travels, those are the two undrafted rookies who have been able to catch my attention, but obviously, it’s still early and there are plenty of visits left on the calendar.