Diontae Johnson

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Jones, Ravens

A bit of a controversy developed in Pittsburgh this week. Mitch Trubisky and Diontae Johnson engaged in a shouting match during halftime of the Steelers-Jets contest, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes, adding that this provided the impetus for Trubisky’s benching. Mike Tomlin did not confirm or deny a shouting match between the quarterback and the team’s highest-paid wideout ensued, though Johnson essentially confirmed a football-related argument took place. But The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly adds the dispute was not the deciding factor in the 16th-year coach moving to Kenny Pickett for the second half of that game. Johnson wanted more targets from Trubisky in that Week 4 game, Dulac adds, leading to the team’s original starter standing up to the fourth-year receiver.

Tomlin benched Trubisky primarily due to his underwhelming performance during the season’s first month, with Kaboly adding he had already decided to go with Pickett. Trubisky sat throughout Week 5 but played well when reinserted into Pittsburgh’s lineup following Pickett’s Week 6 concussion. Despite a bounce-back relief effort against the Buccaneers, Trubisky is set to return to the bench. Pickett cleared concussion protocol Friday and is in line to start against the Dolphins, Tomlin said. Levi Wallace and Pat Freiermuth also cleared the protocol, arming the Steelers with key starters.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • It looks likely Deion Jones will make his Browns debut Sunday. The team held off from activating the recently acquired linebacker from IR last week, giving the longtime Falcons starter more time after designating him for return. Jones is progressing fast in Joe Woods‘ defense, per linebackers coach Jason Tarver (via cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, on Twitter). Tarver said Jones could be in position to wear the green dot, signifying headset communication, in the near future. The Browns, who lost Anthony Walker to a season-ending injury in Week 3, acquired the six-year Atlanta cog for merely a 2024 pick swap.
  • Cleveland will be without multiple Pro Bowlers against Baltimore, however. The Browns ruled out Wyatt Teller and Denzel Ward for their divisional matchup. Teller is battling a calf strain, while Ward will miss a second consecutive game due to a concussion he suffered in Week 5.
  • Ben Powers has operated as the Ravens‘ left guard this season, winning a training camp competition. While 2021 third-round pick Ben Cleveland was nominally in that battle, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic notes the younger Ben in this matchup did not mount a serious push at winning the job opposite Kevin Zeitler. The Ravens have been frustrated with Cleveland’s inability to practice consistently due to injuries, Zrebiec adds. Cleveland missed the first week of training camp due to a failed conditioning test and has missed the past two games due to a foot injury. The Ravens did see Cleveland return to practice Thursday. Cleveland, who started four games last season, has not played an offensive snap this year. Baltimore was holding a three-player competition for the job Powers won. The third entrant, Tyre Phillips, is now with the Giants.

Latest On Diontae Johnson Extension

In a move which came as something of a surprise in multiple ways, the Steelers extended receiver Diontae Johnson yesterday. The deal came amidst speculation that he would depart next spring in free agency, and carries a lower annual value than he likely would have been able to command on the open market had he taken that path. 

Details about the process resulting in Johnson remaining in Pittsburgh through 2024 have begun to emerge, as detailed by Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (subscription required). He writes that the offer (two years, $36.71MM) was tabled to Johnson “weeks ago.” The Pro Bowler originally sat out of practices in training camp, and it was reported earlier this week that serious negotiations had only just begun, and that a significant financial gap existed between the two parties.

“The offer they gave me, I stuck with it,” Johnson said. “I could’ve gotten a little more, but I’m good, I’m happy and I am ready to go.” The $18.355MM annual average of the new pact (which will begin next year) places him far below the likes of fellow 2019 draft classmates A.J. BrownD.K. MetcalfDeebo Samuel and Terry McLaurinwhose compensation ranges from $23.2MM to $25MM. More generally, it also falls short of the $20MM-per-year plateau which has become the new watermark at the position this offseason; 14 wideouts currently meet or exceed that threshold.

“You see the numbers, but I wasn’t looking at everyone’s pockets,” the 26-year-old added. “I can’t control what they got going on, so I’m just worried about what I got going on. We were able to come up with something and happy to come to the table, get something done, and I was happy we got there.”

By signing a second contract, Johnson joins rare Steelers company at the position (Hines Ward and Antonio Brown represent notable exceptions to the general rule of letting wideouts walk in free agency). With a short-term deal in place, he can move closer to his stated goal of remaining in Pittsburgh for the duration.

“I felt like it was the right decision. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side… at the end of the day I love being a Steeler. I love it here; I want to finish my career here.”

Steelers, Diontae Johnson Agree To Deal

Given the state of contract talks between the two sides, many felt that 2022 would be Diontae Johnson‘s final season in Pittsburgh. Instead, he will be on the books beyond that, as he has agreed to terms on a two-year, $36.71MM extension (Twitter link via NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo). 

Johnson had one year remaining on his rookie contract, so this deal will keep him in place through 2024. The relatively short term will give him an opportunity to hit the open market while still in his 20s. The extension will bring an end to the former third-rounder’s ‘hold-in’ during training camp, which has helped bring about new deals for a number of wideouts from the decorated WR class of 2019.

Garafolo adds that the contract includes $27MM in guaranteed money, and InsidetheBirds.com’s Adam Caplan tweets it includes a $17.5MM signing bonus. The deal will pay the 26-year-old $19MM in its first year (Twitter link). Overall, the annual average of $18.355MM ranks significantly lower than that of new deals signed by the likes of A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin this offseason. It was clear throughout this process that the Steelers wouldn’t match that level of compensation, with the $20MM-per-year mark being labeled a bar the team was unwilling to clear.

Pittsburgh remained able to come in short of that plateau, but still land the Pro Bowler at a reasonable rate. Having improved in each of his three seasons to date, Johnson eclipsed 1,000 yards last season as the team’s top pass catcher. Assuming he maintains that level of production going forward, a rate fractionally above that of Christian Kirk could prove to be significant value at a position which has seen a skyrocketing market in recent months.

Johnson’s new pact represents the second major extension taken care of by new general manager Omar Khan this offseason. The team already finalized a record-breaking deal with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, leaving them free to turn their attention to Johnson. The lack of substantive progress at any point this offseason – marked by the organization’s insistence that they would not deviate from their internal valuation of the Toledo alum – pointed to Johnson playing out this season and securing a new deal in free agency (which, in all likelihood, would have allowed him to earn notably more than the value of this extension).

Instead, he will continue to operate as the Steelers’ top wideout as they transition to the post-Ben Roethlisberger era at quarterback. Headlining a young offensive nucleus including fellow receivers Chase Claypool and George Pickens, along with running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth, Johnson is set to take another step forward with his financial future now taken care of.

Steelers GM: WR Market Complicating Diontae Johnson Talks

A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, D.K. Metcalf and Deebo Samuel have finalized extensions, spotlighting the Steelers’ situation with their contract-year wide receiver. New GM Omar Khan shed some light on those talks, but Diontae Johnson‘s “hold-in” measure is ongoing.

Each member of the aforementioned quartet is now tied to a deal worth at least $23MM per year. Brown’s $25MM AAV and $56MM fully guaranteed headline that list, but the top wideouts in Philadelphia, Washington, Seattle and San Francisco each agreed to three- or four-year deals with considerable guaranteed money. Pittsburgh’s general receiver approach differs, leaving Johnson in limbo.

Khan did indicate the team wants to re-sign Johnson, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac noted negotiations have begun (on Twitter). But given the Steelers’ past caution with second receiver contracts and 2022’s exploding market at this position, it is far from certain the former third-round pick will join his 2019 draft classmates in cashing in before the season. Indeed, Dulac adds a wide financial gap between Johnson and the Steelers exists and indicates the prospect of an extension coming together is slim.

We don’t discuss that publicly, but we have been in conversations,” Khan said, via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly, of Johnson extension talks. “We want Diontae and we are excited to have Diontae a part of this team. We hope he is going to be a Steeler for a long time.

… When things happen, it adds to the conversation; let’s put it that way. It is the function of the times and the system that we are in. It is part of the process. Regardless of the position, I assume those [markets] will keep growing. As the CBA grows, the contracts grow.”

Johnson is surely targeting a deal north of $20MM annually. Although the Toledo product dropped a career-high 1,161-yard season in 2021 — a number that topped Metcalf and McLaurin’s 17-game 2021 showings — the Steelers are not believed to be eyeing Johnson at a price similar to his peers. That would point to Johnson playing out his rookie contract this season and preparing to hit the 2023 market.

The Steelers would have the option of the franchise tag, and they have extended two other 2023 walk-year players — Minkah Fitzpatrick and Chris Boswell — this summer. While the modern Steelers have only given long-term receiver extensions to Hines Ward and Antonio Brown, they have made competitive offers to wideouts in the past. Mike Wallace received a five-year offer worth $50MM before the 2012 season; he passed and signed with the Dolphins for five years and $60MM in free agency the following year. The Steelers are expected to make Johnson an offer, but if he wants to maximize his value and secure a deal in the Brown-McLaurin-Metcalf-Samuel ballpark, free agency would seemingly be a better bet than taking a Steelers deal now.

Khan plans to continue the Kevin Colbert-era policy of no in-season negotiations, giving these negotiations a firm deadline. The Steelers, as they often do, used a second-round pick on a wideout (George Pickens) and then added Calvin Austin III in Round 4 this year.

Latest On Diontae Johnson

Yesterday saw another high-profile wideout from the 2019 class sign a massive extension, turning attention even further to Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson. He could be the next in line to secure a new contract, and knowing that, he has mostly been a spectator so far at training camp. 

Mark Kaboly of The Athletic notes that the former third-rounder has been essentially ‘holding-in’ since his arrival at camp (subscription required). The reason for doing so, of course, is the fact that he has one year remaining on his rookie contract and is aiming for a significant raise on a multi-year pact.

The WR market has erupted this offseason, with $20MM-per-season deals becoming the new benchmark at the position, especially for players in their prime. At 25, Johnson has been expected to land a contract similar to those signed by D.J. Moore (three years, $61.884MM) and Mike Williams (three years, $60MM) in recent months, which would rank him below 2019 classmates A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin.

However, it was reported earlier this month that the Steelers – whose top remaining priority is establishing Johnson’s financial future, having already done so with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick – are not expected to offer the 25-year-old an extension averaging $20MM-per-annum. That has left both parties in their current situation, and fuelled speculation that the 2022 campaign will be Johnson’s last in Pittsburgh.

Kaboly adds that Johnson “does want to remain a Steeler,” but also that the player is “unsure” at this point if contract talks are ongoing. The Steelers rank towards the top of the league in terms cap space both this year and, more importantly, next. Johnson is in line to once again operate as Pittsburgh’s top pass-catcher, though the franchise has a history of letting wideouts leave in free agency when signing their second contracts, and added George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in this year’s draft.

Another season of increased production would give Johnson consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns and boost his free agent value. Whether or not he will be on the field in the build-up to the season, and where he will be playing in 2023, though, remain very much in question at this point.

Steelers Unlikely To Offer Diontae Johnson $20MM-Per-Year Deal

The 49ers and Seahawks have expressed continued optimism about extensions for Deebo Samuel and D.K. Metcalf, respectively. The Cardinals are prepared to enter extension talks with Marquise Brown. Philadelphia and Washington have already shown how much they value their respective fourth-year receiver talents, with the NFC East teams extending A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin this offseason.

Diontae Johnson‘s offseason has ventured into a different neighborhood. The Steelers have taken care of their top extension priority, inking Minkah Fitzpatrick to a market-resetting deal, but as of a few weeks ago, they are not believed to have submitted an offer to their No. 1 wideout. Once that offer comes, Johnson’s camp may not be pleased.

The Steelers are unlikely to move into the territory the Commanders did for McLaurin, per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, who adds the team should not be expected to top $20MM per year for Johnson (subscription required). This sets up the prospect of an intriguing contract year, with Kaboly expecting Johnson to depart as a 2023 free agent.

Although it is still fairly early here, with the Steelers often extending players in the weeks leading up to the season, the Johnson-Pittsburgh relationship has headed toward a 2023 split for a bit now. The Steelers generally let wideouts walk after their first contracts expire, and the exploding receiver market stands to make the team more hesitant about doling out a monster contract here.

It’s not like you don’t see it,” Johnson said last month, regarding the new-look wideout market. “You see it. A bell rings in your head like, such and such got this and such and such got that. I try not to look at that or pocket watch. Whoever gets the contract, they deserve it. They obviously put in the time and work. My time is going to come. Just being patient. If it comes this year, it’s a blessing. If it don’t, keep working.”

Since these comments, McLaurin received a three-year deal worth more than $23MM on average to become the NFL’s 11th $20MM-plus-AAV wideout. McLaurin’s deal should impact Johnson’s asking price. The latter’s 2021 yardage output (1,161) tops McLaurin’s best work to date, and the Steelers’ shifty pass catcher has one Pro Bowl honor (albeit as an alternate) to the McLaurin’s zero. Samuel and Metcalf will aim to eclipse McLaurin’s pact, with A.J. Brown‘s $25MM AAV and receiver-high $56MM guaranteed surely in each NFC West target’s sights. Johnson’s range is murkier, but his draft classmates have done well to raise peers’ asking prices.

It is not certain the Steelers see Johnson as a No. 1 receiver, per Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who offers the team might wait until 2023 to make its final offer — after another season’s worth of evidence on the former third-rounder’s value. Johnson, 26 today, could opt to take a lesser offer ahead of the season — for security purposes — but the rising receiver market points to a bet-on-himself season. Mike Wallace made that move 10 years ago, turning down a five-year offer worth $50MM — leading to the Steelers’ first Antonio Brown extension — before receiving a better deal from the Dolphins in free agency (5/60) in 2013.

Although the Steelers drafted yet another Day 2 wideout this year (George Pickens), Johnson still figures to be the team’s top target in 2022. Barring injury, that status should put him in strong position to command a nice payday — one that could well come via free agency.

Latest On Diontae Johnson’s Contract Status

With the record-setting extension for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick having officially been taken care of, the next major financial task to attend to for the Steelers is a second contract for wideout Diontae Johnson. As detailed by Mark Kaboly of the Athletic (subscription required), Pittsburgh will not deviate from their established procedures to get a deal done. 

[RELATED: Steelers Yet To Offer Extension To Johnson]

As Kaboly writes, Fitzpatrick was, understandably, deemed a higher priority for the team’s front office. New general manager Omar Khan demonstrated his willingness to make a sizeable financial commitment to the two-time All-Pro, but the same may not be true to the same extent in Johnson’s case.

Waiting until this period of the offseason is in line with standard financial planning for the Steelers, so it should come as little surprise that extension talks “will start soon,” per Kaboly. He is quick to add, however, that the team “won’t deviate much” from their internal valuation of Johnson once serious negotiations begin.

The former third-rounder has established himself as the Steelers’ top pass-catcher, increasing his production during each of his three seasons in the league. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in 2021, which led to his first Pro Bowl invite. That makes him the latest in a long line of Pittsburgh wideouts who have earned lucrative second contracts, but it remains to be seen if his will come from the Steelers, as few have in years past.

After JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington left in free agency this offseason, the team added George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the draft. Johnson will stay atop the depth chart into 2022, but new faces in the front office could lead to a lower-valued contract offer than Johnson may presently expect.

The 25-year-old could seek, as other high-profile 2019 draftees have already, a deal which eclipses the $20MM-per-year mark; the skyrocketing WR market has seen the number of players earning that figure rise to 11. Kaboly posits that Johnson could be assured of an extension if he aims for the $16-18MM range, placing him one tier below the top wideouts.

With plenty of time still remaining between now and the start of the season – which is already known as the unofficial deadline for a deal to be worked out – this situation becoming the central focus for Pittsburgh should make it the top story to follow in the short-term.

Steelers Yet To Submit Extension Offer To Diontae Johnson

Diontae Johnson is three months from his contract season, and while it is unclear if the Steelers’ top wide receiver will play a fourth year on his rookie deal, the Steelers have yet to engage in serious talks. Johnson said the team has not made an extension offer, according to veteran NFL reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala (on Twitter).

The Steelers usually hammer out their extensions just before the season. Numerous veterans have signed late-summer deals to stay in Pittsburgh. New GM Omar Khan confirmed the team will continue to not discuss extensions in-season. What makes Johnson’s case more interesting is the team’s history with wide receivers and the team undoubtedly preparing a lucrative Minkah Fitzpatrick re-up. Those talks will take precedence over any negotiations with Johnson, who is believed to want to stay with the Steelers long-term.

Although Pittsburgh gave Antonio Brown two extensions, the rest of the team’s post-Hines Ward receiver troops moved on during or after their contract years. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a slight exception as well, having re-signed in 2021. But he left for Kansas City this year. And Johnson will be on track for a more lucrative deal. The team traded Santonio Holmes to the Jets after four seasons, let Mike Wallace join the Dolphins after his rookie deal expired in 2013 and operated the same way regarding Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with the Broncos a year later.

Pittsburgh, which also let James Washington join Smith-Schuster in leaving this year, drafted George Pickens in Round 2 and Calvin Austin III in Round 4. The team has a tremendous track record of receiver development, pointing to potential hesitancy in extending Johnson on an exploding receiver market. The former third-round pick is coming off his first 1,000-yard season and stands to be the top weapon for the team’s post-Ben Roethlisberger starting quarterback.

The team has time to finalize its path with Johnson and has the franchise tag at its disposal in 2023. Should Fitzpatrick not agree to a deal this year, he would be in line for a 2023 tag. For now, Johnson joins D.K. Metcalf, Terry McLaurin and Deebo Samuel as 2019 receiver draftees going into contract years. The Seahawks, Commanders and 49ers, respectively, have each indicated a desire to extend these players. The Steelers have not done so with Johnson yet. Another quality season from the soon-to-be 26-year-old pass catcher will position him for a big free agency accord.

Latest On Steelers’ Diontae Johnson

Diontae Johnson made headlines last week when he joined the group of extension-eligible wideouts choosing not to attend the first week of their team’s OTAs. He has now changed course on that decision, however. 

As noted (on Twitter) by ESPN’s Brooke Pryor, the 25-year-old is in fact with the team now, and conducting on-field work. All activity at this point in the offseason is voluntary, so Johnson’s absence was much different than what it would be if he were to repeat it in June. Still, his presence will be a welcomed sign for the rest of the team’s offense.

That unit includes new quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who has been taking first-team reps so far. Developing chemistry between the pair – something which, in fairness, already began informally earlier in the offseason – will go a long way to developing the team’s passing game. Whether Trubisky or top pick Kenny Pickett ends up winning the starting job in the fall, Johnson will of course be a focal point of Pittsburgh’s offense.

The third-rounder has taken a notable step forward in terms of production during each of his three seasons in the NFL. After coming just short of doing so in 2020, he eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark last season, earning Pro Bowl honors along the way. That has led to optimism for the upcoming campaign, though another strong performance would only inflate his value in free agency.

As a result, the way new general manager Omar Khan will handle this situation bears watching. The Steelers have a history of generally declining to sign wideouts to large second contracts, something which may become more likely if the recent upward trend in the position’s market continues with deals for the likes of Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin. Outside of Johnson, Pittsburgh boasts Chase Claypool, along with rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin as notable young receivers. Last year, running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth showed the potential to become franchise cornerstones as well, but the team’s offensive nucleus would likely be at its best with Johnson in the fold long-term.

With Johnson back on the field, it will be worth monitoring if any progress is made soon regarding a contract extension. In any event, the Steelers will no doubt welcome back their top wideout during a time when other teams are without stars in similar situations.

Latest On Steelers, Diontae Johnson

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.