After watching Terry McLaurin and others get sizable pay raises, Diontae Johnson was angling to be the latest stud receiver to cash in. But early reports weren’t projecting the Steelers to cough up a deal that paid Johnson $20 million per year. And one reporter was predicting he would hit the market and get paid “somewhere else.”
I was hoping that “somewhere else” could be Chicago. And we were keeping an eye on Deontae Johnson’s situation with Pittsburgh as he was entering the final year of his rookie deal.
But it wasn’t meant to be, as NFL Network insider Mike Garafolo reports Johnson is getting a two-year extension to stick around Pittsburgh:
Hey, Siri! Please play “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen.
Johnson falls short of the $20 million AAV he might’ve been hoping to land. But $18 million per year isn’t too shabby. And that it comes on just a two-year pact means Johnson can return to the market after the 2024 season to take another shot for a big contract starting in his age 29 season. It is a win-win scenario for Johnson (who gets his money) and the team (who retrains a budding star receiver). But on the other end of the spectrum, it is another losing hand for teams who had eyes on addressing receiver needs in a future free agent market.
Lookin’ at you, Bears…
But I digress, as Johnson’s extension in Pittsburgh puts two things into focus for Ryan Poles. One short-term item, and another that is something for the back burner (but shouldn’t be ignored).
Firstly, seeing Johnson’s extension gives us another datapoint for a young core player getting a new deal with his team. And even though Johnson and Roquan Smith play different positions, we need to be cognizant of what Johnson’s extension could mean for Smith. In short, the Johnson extension should move the floor for that type of player to $18 million. Perhaps that number is a noteworthy one that is part of Smith’s extension discussion. At minimum, Johnson receiving $18M AAV should put Bears ownership and management on notice that a contract worth $20M AAV is probably coming soon.
And if not Smith, maybe it’ll be Darnell Mooney.
To be clear, the Bears can’t sign Mooney to an extension until after the 2022 season ends. But if Mooney replicates his 2021 campaign, it would behoove Chicago’s front office to move quickly. The last thing this group should want is a repeat of the Allen Robinson II situation. Ryan Pace was willing to wait out the market, only to watch it explode out of his price range. In June 2020, projections were pegging Robinson on a three-year extension worth $17 million per season. One year later, Robinson was reportedly seeking a contract that came with a $20M AAV. The market moves quickly and doesn’t look back. And I hope the Bears are ready for it this time around.