Steelers re-sign Landry Jones, David Johnson
The first day of NFL free agency went about as expected for the Steelers.
They retained two of their players Thursday afternoon after the new league year kicked off at 4 p.m., re-signing backup quarterback Landry Jones and blocking tight end David Johnson to two-year contracts and not yet committing deals to anyone outside the organization.
The Steelers also waived running back Karlos Williams and lost free-agent wide receiver Markus Wheaton to the Chicago Bears.
Jones and Johnson joined linebackers James Harrison and Steven Johnson and long snapper Greg Warren as veterans who returned to the Steelers this offseason.
“I think it is the way people treat you around here,” Jones said moments after his contract was announced. “It's a business. You can't get around that in the NFL, but at the same time, the Rooneys treat you great. All of our coaches treat you great. It's just a great place to be.”
The Steelers left the door open for others to return among the seven players who hit the market Thursday. Chief among them is linebacker Lawrence Timmons. A free agent for the first time after 10 seasons with the Steelers, Timmons has a meeting scheduled Friday with the Miami Dolphins. Timmons isn't expected to re-sign with the Steelers unless he agrees to a team-friendly deal.
After making just four starts — two in 2016 — in four seasons with the Steelers, Jones gauged interest on the free-agent market during the two-day “legal tampering” period. He didn't get the interest he wanted and worked quickly to return to the Steelers, who selected Jones in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.
“Obviously, I wasn't going to be stupid or anything,” Jones said. “If there was a chance to play somewhere, I'd want to take that chance to give myself that opportunity. But it just didn't turn out. Once that was over with, shoot, (I said) I'm going back to Pittsburgh.”
Jones started against the New England Patriots in place of an injured Ben Roethlisberger and led the Steelers to a win over Cleveland in the regular-season finale. In that game, he completed 24 of 37 passes for 277 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
“This made the most sense,” Jones said. “It wasn't like there was a place I could go play at or start. For us, if all things were equal, I wasn't going to play anywhere (else). If there was a spot to go be a backup, I wasn't going to leave Pittsburgh and leave a place I already knew and was comfortable at.”
Also returning was Johnson, considered the team's top blocker at tight end. He caught seven passes for 80 yards in 2016 when he returned to the Steelers after spending two years with the San Diego Chargers. He earned $760,000 last season and must make at least the $900,000 veteran minimum in 2017.
In eight NFL seasons, one of which he spent on injured reserve, Johnson has 31 catches for 304 yards and one touchdown.
Williams was signed to the Steelers' practice squad last season but served a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He was signed to a futures contract in January.
Wheaton, a former third-round draft choice, was bothered by a shoulder injury last season and finished the year on injured reserve after catching four passes for 51 yards and one touchdown in three games.
In addition to Timmons, Steelers players who could sign with other teams Thursday were linebacker Jarvis Jones, defensive end Ricardo Mathews, safety Shamarko Thomas, offensive lineman Cody Wallace and running back DeAngelo Williams.