Steelers’ Diontae Johnson Reacts to Report He’s ‘Unhappy,’ Making an ‘Empty Threat’

Diontae Johnson Steelers

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images Diontae Johnson of the Pittsburgh Steelers is tackled by De'Vondre Campbell of the Green Bay Packers on October 3, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Fourth-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson missed all three Pittsburgh Steelers OTAs this past week.

“We can also assume he won’t show up to next week’s voluntary sessions, either,” wrote Mark Kaboly of The Athletic on Friday, before crediting fellow receiver Chase Claypool for confirming that Johnson was absent from May 24-26.

“I know Diontae is grinding no matter where he is,” said Claypool. “I know a lot of people are looking into it, but I am not looking into it too much because he is perfecting his craft, and he is going to come ball out.”

Never mind that as an accomplished veteran, Johnson doesn’t need to attend OTAs to be successful with whoever the Steelers trot out at quarterback this season.

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Kaboly: Diontae Johnson is ‘Trying to Send a Message’

That said, “Johnson is unhappy with his current contract situation and trying to send a message through his lack of attendance,” writes Kaboly, before reminding that the former third-round pick is entering the final year of the rookie contract he signed in 2019.

“(H)e knows if an extension isn’t agreed upon by the Sept. 11 opener, he will likely play the season without any security of a long-term deal as he heads into free agency…. Johnson doesn’t want that, and what little leverage he has is sitting out OTAs,” which Kaboly calls an “empty threat.”

Johnson has no doubt heard the whispers about his supposed unhappiness. On Friday he tweeted two different times, first referencing his humility, and then offering a “no comment” of sorts.


What Can Be Expected Going Forward?

Kaboly predicts that Johnson will show up to mandatory minicamp (June 14-16), because otherwise it will cost him $88,650, pretty rich considering that he is scheduled to earn a salary of $2.79 million this year, as per overthecap.com.

Kaboly also predicts the Steelers will offer Johnson a contract extension, “at what they believe is his market value, and there won’t be much wiggle room.”

However, his market value may be difficult to determine, in light of the recent mega-deals signed by wide receivers like A.J. Brown and Tyreek Hill. Complicating matters further is that Johnson has flashed the ability of a No. 1 receiver, but has also had recurring issues with dropped passes.

The Steelers also need to consider whether third-year receiver Chase Claypool — or perhaps rookie second-round pick George Pickens — might ultimately be a better choice for an extended-term commitment.

On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore how Johnson has become increasingly productive in each of his three seasons in the league, catching 59 passes as a rookie before escalating to 88 catches and 107 receptions in the last two seasons, with a total of 20 touchdown catches to date.

At the same time, one also has to wonder whether a 10.9 yards per catch average, 62.7% career catch percentage, and a single Pro Bowl appearance (all per Pro Football Reference) is enough to warrant a lucrative contract extension. One that approaches that of, say, A.J. Brown, who received a four-year, $100 million extension from the Eagles after Philadelphia acquired him from the Tennessee Titans in exchange for first- and third-round picks.

That said, the Steelers could try to trade Johnson sometime before the 2022 trade deadline, in hopes of getting back a significant asset before he might leave in free agency. That’s not something ex-general manager Kevin Colbert would have done, as trading Johnson would leave the Steelers rail thin in terms of proven wide receiver talent. But there’s the possibility that new general manager Omar Khan and new assistant general manager Andy Weidl might approach things differently.

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