Among the New Orleans Saints’ pending free agents, few are as productive in 2022 as Juwan Johnson. The college wide receiver completed his transition to tight end and led the team with seven touchdown receptions, earning him the starting lineup thanks to his vastly improved blocking skills. His offseason efforts to build size and improve his shot-blocking skills have paid off, allowing him to continue playing and score more targets in the passing game.
Now Johnson will be a restricted free agent, which basically means the Saints can at least exercise the right of first refusal if he gets other contract offers. More likely, they’ll keep him on a one-year deal that would bring back draft pick compensation if another team signs Johnson. Either way, the team needs to make a decision. So let’s recap his 2022 campaign:
Johnson had his best year as a pro, finishing the season with 42 receptions for 508 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games. He was most dangerous in the red zone, with five of his scores coming inside the 20-yard line, and Johnson’s size allowed him to dominate in tight spaces. But he also deserves credit for his good movement after the catch; Johnson averaged 3.9 yards per catch, which was third on the team among players with 30 or more targets. Only Alvin Kamara (8.2) and Rashid Shahid (6.2) are better.
Johnson served as New Orleans’ top tight end, and he had more snaps on offense than every other skill position player on the team. Only quarterback Andy Dalton recorded more snaps among nonlinemen (736). 326 of Johnson’s 647 snaps on offense (about 50 percent) saw him move to the inside lineup, up from just 32 percent of his reps a year ago. He also saw plenty of reps on special teams, running with return and coverage units and field goal teams.
2022 season review
Once again, Johnson is to be commended for his progress in 2022. He fulfilled his potential and looked like he found something special in his transition to his new role. Now he’s on the cusp of winning a nice contract extension, if not this year, then possibly next season. New Orleans needs to continue to use him offensively and possibly try to get more targets as a vertical threat. They shouldn’t wait until they’re in scoring position to give him a chance to play.
future value to sage
Johnson is a rare silver lining for the Saints offense in 2022, and he’s their best option at tight end right now, so keeping him around and continuing to dedicate resources to his development makes a lot of sense. Adam Trautman hasn’t improved much year after year. Taysom Hill isn’t a full-time wing. Johnson is likely to be New Orleans’ position of the future, unless they sign a player with a high draft pick this spring.
stay or go
It’s simple: Johnson should stay until around 2023 and hopefully sign a multi-year extension so we don’t have that discussion again in 2024. He deserves it. It would be good for him and the Saints to strike a long-term deal now, giving Johnson some security while crossing an item off New Orleans’ to-do list early. The only reason an extension should not be discussed is if Johnson himself refuses. If he takes another step forward next season, he’ll have a compelling case to win a top-of-the-market deal as an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
Vote: Vote on Twitter!
Story originally appeared on Saints Wire