‘Bold’ Steelers Trade Proposal Sends Draft Return for Diontae Johnson

Getty Steelers' Diontae Johnson carries the ball for a touchdown.

In one of his first orders of business as general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Omar Khan did something the GM before rarely did: Signed a wide receiver to an extension.

Now Khan might be second-guessing it.

Fourth-year receiver Diontae Johnson made a stink in the offseason about his desire for a contract extension by holding in during training camp. Johnson got his wish in July with a two-year extension worth nearly $37 million with a $17.5 million signing bonus and $27 million guaranteed.

Johnson, 26, became only the third wide receiver since the dawn of free agency in 1993 to be extended by the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise (Hines Ward, Antonio Brown)– well, four if you count JuJu Smith-Schuster’s one-year deal amidst a pandemic.

If Steelers Nation wasn’t calling for Johnson to be traded instead of extended, they’ve made their voices loud and clear after a recent Twitter post.

Fueling some of that push is an upcoming rookie by the name of Jordan Addison. Addison played with quarterback Kenny Pickett at Pitt before transferring to USC for his final season. Dumping Johnson and drafting Addison seems to be how fans would like to see things go down this spring.

In a January 10 mailbag from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Joe Starkey, @Markvg31V posed the question: “Would you draft (Jordan) Addison at 17 even though there are other holes, much like the Bengals did with Chase over Sewell? Then potentially trade DJ for another Day 2 pick? I get the feeling DJ doesn’t want to be a No. 2 to Pickens and can be a distraction.”

Starkey agreed with the notion.

“I’d think about trading Diontae Johnson and drafting Addison. Yes, I would,” Starkey replied.

Starkey pointed out that Johnson wasn’t a distraction — although Steelers fans like to paint him as one — but his production hasn’t equaled what he’s getting paid for.

“To be fair, Johnson, by all accounts, was not a distraction, and I don’t think he will be. If anything, he tried too hard to justify his contract. He just wasn’t very dynamic. His regression is the important point here. I wouldn’t put it past him to rebound strong, but that’s hardly a guarantee.”

Johnson struggled to find the endzone in a record 86 catches. Per Pro Football Reference, he logged just 882 yards receiving and a career-low 2.7 yards after catch.

“This would be a bold move, Starkey wrote, but I would endorse it. Might be best for both sides as George Pickens asserts himself as the No. 1 guy, and the Steelers have an extra prime pick thanks to the Chase Claypool trade.”

Steelers Trading Diontae Johnson and Selecting Jordan Addison in the 2023 NFL Draft

While the thought of a shiny new toy in the form of Jordan Addison for Kenny Pickett to enjoy sounds nice, a receiver in the first round wouldn’t do the Pittsburgh Steelers much good in the short term. Arguably, there are more pressing needs.

But, as we know, Pittsburgh likes the sexy pick, opting for running back Najee Harris with its first overall selection when a top-tier lineman or defensive back was more logical.

Hypothetically speaking, if the Steelers were to trade Diontae Johnson for a second-round pick before the 2023 NFL draft, they would have the extra picks to address the glaring linemen and defensive back positions that still exist two years after Harris was drafted.

In a surprise move before the 2022 NFL trade deadline, Pittsburgh sent Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears for a second-round pick. To the Steelers’ delight, that pick resulted in what are essentially two picks in the first round, thanks to the Miami Dolphins forfeiting their top pick.

The Steelers are sitting pretty with three picks in the first two rounds, four in the top 80.

Steelers Nation envisions Addison becoming Pittsburgh’s version of Ja’Marr Chase-Joe Burrow or the A.J. BrownJalen Hurts; both pairs played together collegiately.

While Chase and Brown could be a stretch talent-wise for Addison, there’s no question that he and Kenny Pickett would be fun to watch, especially paired with the phenom George Pickens.

At Pitt, the Pickett-to-Addison connection garnered 2,259 yards and 21 touchdowns over two seasons for the Panthers.

Matthew Jones of Fantasy Pros called Addison “one of the most agile, flexible receiver prospects you’ll see” in its January 6 scouting report. Jones believes Addison’s thin frame and lack of “ideal separation on go routes” could put him in the slot, which is what the Steelers lacked after the Claypool trade.

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