Steelers Stud WR Emerges as Realistic Option for Bears in 2023

Diontae Johnson

Getty Steelers WR Diontae Johnson could be an option for the Chicago Bears in 2023.

With training camp kicking off for the Chicago Bears on July 26, the odds of the team adding any big-name talent at this point are slim.

Chicago’s needs at both wide receiver and offensive line have been talked into the ground at this point, but it’s looking like new general manager Ryan Poles is going to wait until next offseason to make any moves of major significance.

As it happens, there could be a talented young receiver available when that time comes, according to one NFL insider.

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Diontae Johnson is in the final year of his rookie deal, and he’ll be looking to cash in before next season — but the Steelers may not be willing to pay him, and one NFL insider thinks another team will. Could that team be the Bears?

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Bears Have Tons of Cap Space in 2023

The Bears are currently set to have over $97.6 million in cap space in 2023, per Over the Cap. They’ll likely try to add some quality players on O-line and at wideout then, and it’s looking like Johnson might be available.

Mark Kaboly of The Athletic was asked in his July 5 Q&A column whether the Steelers are looking to pay the promising young wideout money along the Terry McLaurin lines (McLaurin just inked a three-year, $71 million extension with the Washington Commanders), and Kaboly’s answer strongly suggests Johnson won’t be a Steeler next season:

“They aren’t offering him anything near McLaurin or anybody else that got more than $20 million per year,” Kaboly wrote. “They will offer him something, and it won’t be what he thinks he can get on the market, and he will get paid next year somewhere else. That’s the way I see it working out now. Spotrac projects his market value at $22 million per year. The Steelers aren’t paying a receiver $22 million per year.”

The Bears will have the money to do it, though.

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Johnson Is What Justin Fields & Bears Need

The 5-foot-10, 183-pound Toledo product has gotten better each year since getting drafted by the Steelers in the third round (66th overall) in 2019. As a rookie that year, Johnson caught 59 passes for 680 yards and five touchdowns. In his second season in 2020, he hauled in 88 passes for 923 yards and seven scores (stats via ESPN).

Last year, in 2021, Johnson had career highs in receptions (107), receiving yards (1,161) and TDs (8). He made his first Pro Bowl and established himself as one of the quicker WRs in the NFL when it comes to getting off the line of scrimmage.

He had six drops on 166 targets (he was the second-most targeted WR in the NFL last year, according to PFF), and with the way he’s able to break away from opposing DBs, Johnson would be the perfect weapon for Justin Fields and the Bears’ offense. Paired with Darnell Mooney? That’d be quite the 1-2 punch.

For his part, Johnson isn’t letting his future earnings interfere with his on-field production.

“I am not really worried about that,” Johnson, who has said he’d like to remain in Pittsburgh, said in June, per the team’s official website. “I can only control what I can control. I want to be here. I am going to keep working. My agent will do what he does. I am not trying to focus on that. I am not worried about it. I am just coming here doing what I am supposed to do. If a contract comes this year it comes, if it don’t it don’t.”

It’s possible the Steelers could slap the franchise tag on Johnson next year, but considering the cost (it’ll likely be upwards of $20 million, which Kaboly thinks is too steep for Pittsburgh), it’s just as likely the team will let him test the open market — and that would give the Bears all the opportunity they need.

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