As we head into the summer months, both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Diontae Johnson will be looking to cash in with a contract extension from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both players are very important to their respective sides of the ball and while the team is set to have a lot of cap space next year, T.J. Watt‘s extension last off-season is a huge chunk of the Steelers cap number. If the front office decides to prioritize signing one over the other, who should that player be and why? Let’s take a deeper dive.
Last season, Johnson caught 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. He was one of Ben Roethlisberger‘s go to guys and significantly improved his drop issues that hurt the offense in 2020.
Fitzpatrick had two interceptions last season and has picked off opposing quarterbacks 11 times since being traded to the Steelers back in 2019. He is a ball hawk defensively and while his interceptions numbers were down in 2021, he played closer to the line often times and that led to him having 124 total tackles. Having an All-Pro caliber defender at safety locked in for another four years would certainly allow Pittsburgh to continue to build a young defense around Watt and Fitzpatrick. Pittsburgh does operate on their own time in terms of contract extensions and ESPN‘s Jeremy Fowler suggests in an update that this deal probably wouldn’t get done until August.
Fitzpatrick Headed Into Last Year of Rookie Deal
The reason Fitzpatrick is the priority for the Steel City is his contract status. He is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and not reaching a deal would lead to the franchise tag or Fitzpatrick testing the open market. The last thing Omar Khan needs in his first year as general manager is to fumble the Fitzpatrick negotiations. He is expecting a record-setting contract and should receive one. He has proven to be one of the best, game changing safeties in the game during his time in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers Draft Wide Receivers Better Than Most NFL Teams
Pittsburgh used two draft picks in 2022 on wide receivers in George Pickens and Calvin Austin III. The team has a long history of evaluating talent at an elite level for receivers. This is why if Pittsburgh fails to meet Johnson’s contract expectations, it really isn’t the end of the world for the offense. Johnson is a dynamic playmaker, but if a deal isn’t reached this off-season and Pickens and Austin have encouraging rookie seasons, it is possible Pittsburgh lets Johnson walk after the final year on his rookie deal.
Defense Wins Championships
As cliché as the saying is, and even in today’s offensive minded NFL, defense wins championships. It is much more wise to extend a game changing safety as opposed to as a receiver whose production can be replaced if the right offensive system is in place. Pittsburgh is in the midst of what some might call a rebuild after Roethlisberger’s retirement and there is no better way to staying competitive than building a championship-caliber defense like the teams in 2005 and 2008. Any defense anchored by a healthy Watt and Fitzpatrick will have a chance to compete all season long.
My expectation is that Kahn will sign both of these playmakers to long-term deals, but Steeler Nation can expect Fitzpatrick to be the first to sign due to his current contract status and the lack of serious depth at the safety position. The Steelers will be in very good hands for years to come if Watt, Fitzpatrick and Johnson all remain a part of the team’s long-term vision.
Who do you think Pittsburgh should work to extend first? Let us know in the comments below!