Steelers 2017 Free Agents Analysis: TE David Johnson – Unrestricted

Player: David Johnson

Position: Tight End

Experience: 7

Free Agent Status: Unrestricted

2016 Salary Cap Hit: $600,000

2016 Season Breakdown:

The Steelers waited all the way until May, well after the draft, before they brought back their former seventh-round draft pick in David Johnson, who essentially came in to replace Matt Spaeth in the offense as the second tight end, at least with the way that the season ended up unfolding.

In spite of the fact that he dealt with some injuries between 2012 and 2014, he has now played 16-game seasons in each of the past two years, starting five games for the Steelers in 2016 in his first season back with the team.

When he did sign, Johnson was given no assurances that he would even make the roster, and yet he did, even when all at the position were healthy, resulting in them keeping four tight ends plus a fullback on the roster, because they liked all of them.

They didn’t even give him a signing bonus at all, meaning that he could have walked away from this year with nothing, instead of his veteran-minimum contract, which qualified for a cap hit of just $600,000. And I’m sure the Steelers are more than glad that they chose to re-sign him.

Free Agency Outlook:

He might not be the most exciting offensive skill position play to hit free agency—he’s not even the most interesting player in the league with the same name—but re-signing David Johnson is a no-brainer in my book.

He is far from flashy, but Johnson is the best blocker at the tight end position that the Steelers have at the moment, which is why, toward the end of the season, they started replacing Jesse James with him when they moved to run-heavy looks with an extra lineman or a fullback.

The team also doesn’t have much in the way of sure things at the position right now what with Ladarius Green’s status being up in the air. He spent most of the year recovering from an ankle injury only to have his season ended by a serious concussion, from which he may still be recovering for all we know.

Bringing Johnson back will provide some stability, flexibility, and, quite simply, options for the Steelers at tight end. He may not light up the stat sheet—he caught seven passes for 80 yards and a two-point conversion, the second-best numbers of his career—but he is a good option as a blocker, both in-line and on the move.

And I’m just going to include this picture of Johnson securing a two-point conversion with one hand just because:

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Conserv_58

    It was glaringly obvious this past season that, Jessie James is no suitable replacement for Heath Miller. Jessie showed improvement, but even that is subjective when comparing him to Heath. Jessie is not a good blocker and his YAC numbers are pathetically low. That is directly related to the fact that his speed can be timed with a sun dial. Watching, James run is like watching a guy run through heavy mud with ankle waits on. It’s quite obvious the Steelers realized his limitations, hence the reason why they signed Ladarius Green and kept David Johnson. When you think about it, those two players make up for what Jessie James can’t do. Green provides the speed and pass catching ability while Johnson provides the blocking. When I think about it, they’re paying three players to do what Heath Miller used to do by himself. That’s not to say that they don’t need other capable TE’s either. It’s just an observation on the current state of their TE situation.

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  • Steelmania

    No Heath, No Wheaton, No Bryant – amazing we made it to AFC Championship – woulda coulda shoulda with these 3 Receivers and the Pat’s game would have been a Barn Burner!

  • Rocksolid20

    Heath was special .

  • Labrat0116

    The Pat’s game woulda been a Barn Burner “if” the Steelers had a real pass rush. Without that, their never going to win another SuperBowl.

  • steelburg

    I think your slightly wrong. I think James can easily duplicate what Heath did in the passing game. I know we haven’t seen him play in a year, but watching Heath run was even slower than watching James run? Give James a full year of starting at TE and he is every bit as good if not better than Heath at the receiving duties of the position. Where he falls short is the blocking I agree with you there. Realistically we could replace Heath with the receiving of James and the blocking of Johnson. But Green adds a element that Heath never had. So I don’t agree we have 3 guys filling his role we can do that we 2 of those guys. But all and all I do not want Johnson back I think we can add a player like Jermey Sprinkle in the draft who could easily replace Johnson and add more upside to the position not to mention that we also have Grimble who is improving.

  • SilverSteel

    I understand your comments, but I will say this. JJ is getting better every few games. He is young and still reaching his ceiling. Let’s give him another year to improve his blocking – which I fully expect he will. He has incredibly soft hands even without the YAC he is still a weapon as he displayed towards the end of the season. I think he rounds out to be a good blocker, excellent pass catcher, poor YAC, but all around keeper and starter. We would not have made it to the POs if it were not for his performance in the Ravens game.

  • SilverSteel

    Agreed Steelburg. He has really soft hands and makes the catches that count (Ravens game). He came up so big in that game to send us to the POs. He has deceptive speed (like Green) because he is so tall and has really long strides. He has a real knack for finding the soft spot in the zones too – just like heath did. I do not think he is even close to his ceiling yet. He is getting better every few games.

  • Craig M

    I believe we were simply outcoached.

  • steelburg

    I like James as a number 2 capable of being a starter at times if need be. But the NFL as a whole is going away from the Heath Miller like TE which is the category I think James falls into IMO. I think teams want athletic guys who can run, catch, and block, but more so the running and catching is becoming more of a priority than the blocking IMO. With the NFL change in the type of player they want at the position I think James at best can only be a high quality number 2 due to his athletic restraints. Players like Green minus the injuries are the future of the position IMO.

  • Conserv_58

    Given all that you said, the fact remains you can’t teach speed and James is woefully lacking in that area.

  • Conserv_58

    I did say that, James has shown improvement, but he has yet to develop into the route runner that Heath was at the same time in his career. He also isn’t even close to what Heath was as a blocker in his second year. I’m not saying that James isn’t going to improve beyond where he is, but he’s much slower than Heath was before Heath suffered his knee injury.

    IMO, Jessie makes for a very good #2 TE. He has shown that he can find the soft spot in the middle of the field, but once he makes a catch he has no burst and short area speed to get separation from defenders. He is not better than Heath was as a receiver. Heath was a very reliable pass catcher. Does he not have the team record for catches for the TE position?

  • Conserv_58

    Ya think?

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  • steelburg

    Your right about James not being as good a blocker and route runner as Miller. But Miller has never been or will he ever be faster than James. Miller ran a 4.87 40. James ran a 4.83 at the combine and a 4.66 and a 4.71 at his pro day all those times are better than Miller. They both look about the same speed during a game IMO. If this was 2005 James would be a number 1 TE. But like I said the game is shifting away from the Heath Miller types to the Green types. James in 2 to 3 more years will be just as good if not better than Heath ever was IMO.