The Pittsburgh Steelers only have two months until training camp and there are still many viable options on the free agent market to help spell running back, Najee Harris. It was clear last year that GM Kevin Colbert drafted Harris in the first round to be the Steelers bell cow runner. However, after Harris sustained an injury in the season finale against the Baltimore Ravens, the hole at running back was clearly exposed. Now, with a revamped offensive line and a rookie quarterback likely to start a lot of games for the black and gold, the run game will need to be a clear focus for the Steelers in 2022.
Below I will discuss a player that is still a free agent and could provide significant juice as a backup to Harris – David Johnson.
Johnson, who was drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals, has had an up and down career. After bursting into the league and earning First Team All-Pro honors in 2016 with the Cardinals, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy or play to a consistent level. Johnson, who eclipsed over 3,500 all-purpose yards in his first four seasons with the Cardinals, was traded following the 2019 season to the Houston Texans where he hasn’t been able to stay on the field or provide consistent play.
After playing out his three-year, $39 million dollar contract with the Texans last season, Johnson hit the free agent market and hasn’t found a home yet. Johnson turned 30 this year and does have significant wear and injury history in his past, but his ability is clearly still there. Johnson played in a part-time role last year with the Texans due to injury and inconsistency and only saw 99 touches over 13 games. This was significantly his lightest role since becoming a pro outside of his 2017 season that was ended in Week 1 with a torn dislocated wrist. Now that Johnson has had time to fully recover and two seasons with significantly less touches than earlier in his career, he could be entering a second stage of his career that allows him to become a viable back up.
Johnson could be answer for Steelers
With a huge hole at RB2, the Steelers and Johnson could make a perfect pairing. Johnson will likely sign for a significant bargain and at this point in his career, should be very content with being a back up. Harris, who just turned 24 in March, is coming off a rookie campaign that saw him touch the ball over 400 times including playoffs. As previously stated, the Steelers need to provide a significant back up in case of injury and to help prolong Harris’ career.
After only missing a few quarters during the 2021 season due to injury, it’s unrealistic to anticipate Harris not missing significant time over the next couple years with the large amount of touches the Steelers give him. Johnson could come in right away and provide a great veteran presence behind Harris and a plethora of knowledge for Harris to use as a seven-year veteran.
Johnson’s contract would be very team-friendly and could look in the neighborhood of two-years, $8 million dollars with minimal guaranteed after the first year. The Steelers still have over $12 million in cap space according to OverTheCap.com and could utilize a contract structure that would allow them to push money into 2023 where they have over $50 million dollars in cap space.
Just a little under a decade ago, the Steelers were in the same situation with running back Le’Veon Bell and struck gold with free agent running back DeAngelo Williams. Bell, who was still on his rookie contract and touching the ball over 400 times a season, was in a need of a veteran back up and the Steelers signed Williams who played significant snaps for them over the course of two seasons. Ultimately, Williams and the Steelers had a falling out that led to Williams’ retirement, but Johnson could provide the same juice in 2022 that Williams did for the Steelers in 2015.
Would you be happy with Johnson as the Steelers back up running back in 2022? Sound off in the comments below!