Saints 'invested' in Juwan Johnson. Now he plans to prove them right.


It didn't take Juwan Johnson long into the offseason to sign his new deal, but even that was longer than he wanted. If he had it his way, he'd have signed a deal right after the 2022 season ended.

But that's not how the game works. The team had to establish what it had on the roster and where it needed to go, as well as complete the annual salary cap gymnastics to establish was they could feasibly do. Within that was a 2-year, $12 million contract for the former UDFA who came into the league at WR, but has thrived since shifting to the TE position.

“This is definitely where I wanted to be,” Johnson said this week, flashing his signature grin.

And the significance of that deal wasn't lost on Johnson. Entering the league as an undrafted free agent is never a simple road. Earning a roster spot is far from a guarantee, let alone a second contract. The 26-year-old earned that second deal by taking a major step forward in his third NFL season, recording 42 catches for 508 yards and a team-leading 7 receiving touchdowns, all career highs.

And the expectations only climb from there.

“It heightens it even more," he said. "You’ve got to think about it, they’ve invested in me now. And so now it’s like, all right, I need to be doing more with this. And not even just that, it’s that I’m doing this game for fun. You get paid to do something like this. I’m like, bro, this is something I’ve been doing since I was a kid, and I get paid for it? And so it’s really just doing it for the love of the game, and not pressure, but also like, ‘we’re giving you something, so what can you do with it?’ "

It's that gracious attitude that comes out early an often in how Johnson approaches the game. Part of his pregame routine is walking barefoot up and down the field while juggling. Part of his postgame routine is sticking around late to help the crew clean up the locker room. It goes without saying, neither of those things are the norm in the NFL.

And neither is the start for Johnson, even if his goals are the same. Stars at the tight end position like Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, George Kittle, Mark Andrew -- they were all drafted. But those are the names he wants to make sure Juwan Johnson is mentioned in the same breath as when all is said and done.

That and the banners he hopes to hang on the walls as the Saints get back to the type of winning ways he experienced as a rookie, but that have taken a bit of a step back in back-to-back seasons of finishing outside of the playoff field. That's something Johnson says he's expressed to his new position coach, Clancy Barone, who has experience working with elite NFL tight end talent with names like Alge Crumpler, Julius Thomas and Antonio Gates. The pair text often, and Johnson has made his goals clear out front.

"I told him straight out, just like I told Dan [Roushar], is I want to be the best tight end in the league. So, not only here, but just in general," Johnson said. "I want to be the best tight end. So whatever you’ve got to give me, however hard you’ve got to coach me, that’s what I want the expectation to be.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: USAT Images