Although Diontae Johnson‘s situation has not received too much attention, at least compared to the other wide receiver standouts from Day 2 of the 2019 draft, the Steelers’ top pass catcher made some news by skipping his team’s first set of OTAs.
Joining the likes of Deebo Samuel, D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin in going into a contract year, Johnson is unhappy about his contract situation, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic notes (subscription required).
Players do not have to report to OTAs, with only the June minicamp being mandatory, though it certainly helps most by doing so. Johnson, however, has worked out with new quarterback Mitchell Trubisky this offseason, Kaboly adds. The Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett in the first round, making the Pittsburgh alum the clear-cut long-term option. Johnson and the other Steeler receivers stockpiling reps with Pickett would be beneficial.
New Steelers GM Omar Khan said the franchise will not deviate from its Kevin Colbert-era approach of not negotiating contracts in-season. This has led to several late-summer extensions, with T.J. Watt‘s being the most notable from recent years. Minkah Fitzpatrick appears next on that docket. This, along with the franchise’s history at the receiver position, stands to affect Johnson’s status.
While the Steelers have done well to extend their key players, they have made a habit of not giving wideouts second contracts. Antonio Brown proved an exception, but the Steelers moved on from the likes of Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders during or after their rookie deals. Although Pittsburgh gave JuJu Smith-Schuster a one-year deal to return, the team let the young slot receiver defect to Kansas City this offseason. Johnson represents Khan’s first crack at navigating a walk-year receiver situation.
A third-round 2019 draftee, Johnson is coming off his first 1,000-yard season — a 1,161-yard showing that led the team by a wide margin — and stands to be the No. 1 option this year for Trubisky and/or Pickett. But the Steelers’ extension track record and the rising costs at the position may point to the Toledo alum auditioning for a lucrative free agency accord. The Steelers, as they are wont to do, used a Day 2 pick to add another receiver (George Pickens at No. 52 overall). He joins Johnson and Chase Claypool, who is under contract through 2023, as the team’s highest-profile receivers.
Johnson has not flashed in the way Samuel or Metcalf have, but he has shown consistent separation ability. Despite a drop-filled 2020, Johnson maintained the trust of Ben Roethlisberger throughout his final two seasons. McLaurin’s resume is somewhat comparable to Johnson’s; the former is skipping his team’s OTAs as well. A.J. Brown‘s $25MM-per-year Eagles contract — featuring a receiver-most $56MM fully guaranteed — has certainly gotten his peers’ attention. Johnson, 26 in July, represents one of the many interesting wideout situations this offseason presents.