The Pittsburgh Steelers began the 2017 free agency signing period exactly has they began free agency in 2016 – by signing a veteran tight end with ties to the San Diego Chargers. The first move out of Pittsburgh in free agency saw the Steelers resigning David Johnson to a two year contract.
The veteran tight end of course played in Pittsburgh during 2016, but he’d spent 2014 and 2015 playing for the Chargers.
- Ironically, the Steelers latest opening day tight end free agent signing might signal some buyers remorse regarding their first.
Let’s be clear, when the Steelers signed Ladarius Green last year, their plan was to add a dynamic weapon to complement Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. And when healthy, Ladarius Green did just that for the Steelers in 2016. In contrast David Johnson isn’t going to create any miss-matches with opposing secondaries.
- Potentially, the Steelers decision to resign David Johnson so quickly signals that concern over whether Ladarius Green will return in 2017.
To be certain, Kevin Colbert as well as others on the South Side have clearly indicated that they expect Ladarius Green to be back in 2017. The Steelers have also insisted that Ladarius Green’s slow start to 2016 and his stint on the PUP was caused by complications from his ankle injury and not be concerns about his concussion history.
But, as we reminded readers just yesterday, the Steelers actions speak far louder than their words.
Timing of David Johnson Contract is What Raises Eyebrows
David Johnson gives the Steelers tight end corps a veteran presence and he brings blocking ability to the game that Jesse James and Xavier Grimble cannot yet match. David Johnson is also a fairly reliable pass catcher, even if quarterbacks don’t look his way very often. Those are all reasons why it makes sense to bring him back.
- But the question is why pull the trigger on a new contract with David Johnson now?
David Johnson will turn thirty just before opening day 2017. He’s never had more than 14 passes thrown his way in a single season and has only scored a single touchdown. While David Johnson hasn’t spent his career as a roster bubble baby, his lease on NFL life has certainly been negotiated on a season-to-season basis.
- The 2017 NFL Draft is said to be a deep one for tight ends.
The Steelers could presumable wait to see if they could get a tight end of their choice and, if not, David Johnson would have certainly been available afterwards. The fact that the Steelers have offered David Johnson a contract in early March as opposed to late May suggests they don’t wish to take chances.
That in turn at least suggests the Steelers are concerned about Ladarius Green’s concussion issues.
Alternative Explanations Exist
It is important to be fair to Ladarius Green. This writer has no sources on the South Side, so we’re only speculating. While terms of David Johnson’s contract haven’t been made public yet, one would guess that he signed for at or near the veteran minimum.
- However, the two-year length of the contract would seem to indicate that he’s more or less guaranteed a roster spot.
So if there are other explanations to for the Steelers decision to resign David Johnson so early in free agency, concern about Ladarius Green’s concussions remains the most plausible one.