PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 08: David Johnson #85 of the Pittsburgh Steelers attempts to break a tackle after catching a pass against the Cleveland Browns during the game on December 8, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
As expected, fourth year Steelers TE David Johnson signed his 1-year $1.26 million (lowest level) restricted free agency tender offer, giving him a guaranteed contract for the 2012 season.
Johnson, a 2009 seventh-round pick out of Arkansas State, has been used as the team's second tight end and often motioned into the backfield and was utilized as an H-back in his career.
Unlikely to have drawn any real interest on the restricted free agency market, the Steelers did not give him a tender level requiring a draft pick in compensation of a team signing him away. Instead, the Steelers held onto exclusive rights, meaning, they had the opportunity to re-sign him to any offer sheet another team would have gotten him to sign.
Johnson is perhaps notorious in SteelerNation for a few drops this season, a definite area of his game he'll need to improve if he wants to stay in the NFL beyond the 2012 season.
The signing of veteran TE/H-back Leonard Pope makes things interesting as well. With TE Weslye Saunders slated to sit out the first four games of the season due to a violation of the league's policy on banned substances (he will not count against the 53-man roster until he's cleared to participate), it seems Pope and Johnson will compete for a spot in the starting lineup, opposite TE Heath Miller.
What role that will be, exactly, is a matter of some conjecture. Pope played H-back for Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley in Kansas City, and was more of a pure tight end when he was with him in Arizona. Haley is known for his offensive creativity, and while Pope's signing seems to be more befitting a replacement veteran who understands Haley's ways, understanding of both the running back position as well as the tight end position (and the offensive line, for that matter) is critical for a true H-back.
That isn't to say Johnson would certainly lose out to Pope, it's possible Haley could use all of them in jumbo packages in short-yardage and goal line situations. Putting two tight ends on the line with a fullback or an H-Back in front of a halfback is a legit and effective formation.