Danny Johnson has been in a vexing cycle. For the past two seasons, he has gone through the process of being re-signed, waived, brought back to the practice squad and promoted to the active roster just to repeat it all the following season while trying to show his value.
No more. After putting together a career season for the Commanders in 2022, Johnson has signed a deal that will keep him in Washington for the next two years. It's exciting, Johnson said, to have that weight lifted off his shoulders, and knowing that the Commanders were interested in retaining him meant that his dedication did not go unnoticed.
Johnson is ready to repay that appreciation by getting back to work and showing how much more he can improve.
"I don't care where they want me to play … Just go out there and do whatever this team need for us to win some ball games."
Having to prove himself is not a new feeling for Johnson. He has had to earn a spot from the time he first joined the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Southern University. That has involved him playing cornerback, both on the outside and in the slot, and returning kicks.
There were times when even that was not enough, and he was left trying to make the most of backup roles or helping the starters prepare for games on the practice squad. Johnson admitted that would cause some frustration when he was younger, but now, as he prepares for his sixth NFL season, he has learned to take things in stride and avoid dwelling on negativity.
"I just try to find positive things and everything that I do, whether it's off the field or whatever, I just try to stay positive about those situations and just know whenever it's my time, it'll be my time," Johnson said.
And there has been plenty of positivity for Johnson when he gets on the field. On top of setting career highs in tackles (29) and pass breakups (9) in 2022, Johnson also got his first sack and interception. By the time the season was over, Johnson had top five Pro Football Focus grades among his teammates in overall defense (3rd), run defense (3rd), tackling (4th) and coverage (4th).
"It all felt surreal when it was happening, just knowing what I was capable of," Johnson said. "For me, it was just whenever I get out there, just try to do whatever I could to show them that I wanted to be here."
That was noticed by Johnson's coaches, and he was rewarded with starts in three of the last four games. Sixteen of his 29 tackles and six of his nine pass breakups came during those starts in Weeks 15, 17 and 18, and he played every defensive snap in each matchup.
Johnson credits the growth he experienced last season to the mental preparation he put himself through in previous years.
"It was kind of hard knowing when I was on the practice squad to stay focused and stay locked in," Johnson said. "I challenged myself, regardless of if I was playing or not, if I was dressing or still didn't play, to stay locked in. I obviously grew from a mental aspect just knowing this is how the game goes and just trusting myself that I belong out there."
The Commanders felt that Johnson belonged on the field, too, because as soon as the offseason was over, coach Ron Rivera made it clear to him that the team wanted him back.
"It has been nothing but positive things ever since the season ended," Johnson said. "So, for me, it was always hope that I would come back here, and I feel like this is the place for me. I've been here my whole career, and I wanted to stay here."
Johnson does not have any celebration plans for re-signing with Washington. Between offseason training and watching his son's baseball games, he has not had much time for all that. If anything, the new contract is a reminder for him to keep improving and showing the value he can add to the roster.
"The expectation for myself is to just keep going, regardless of the situation," Johnson said.