The Pittsburgh Steelers may not have much of a future with Diontae Johnson after this season.
According to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, the Steelers are unlikely to pay the 26-year-old receiver at least $22 million per season. In fact, Kaboly goes so far as to say that Pittsburgh won’t pay Johnson anywhere near what the Washington Commmanders offered Terry McLaurin recently (three years, $71 million, $23.3 million annual salary).
“They aren’t offering him anything near McLaurin or anybody else that got more than $20 million per year,” reported Kaboly on Tuesday, July 5. “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.”
Johnson Has Been ‘Unhappy’ Over Contract Situation
Johnson is on the verge of entering the final year of his rookie deal, a contract that will pay him over $3 million this season, ranking 63rd among all wide receivers.
This isn’t the first time Kaboly has reported on Johnson’s unhappiness regarding his contract situation with the Steelers. Kaboly previously stated back in May that Johnson sat out OTAs up until that point due to his desire for a new contract.
“Johnson is unhappy with his current contract situation and trying to send a message through his lack of attendance,” said Kaboly on May 27. “He is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and he 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.”
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Steelers Lacking Veteran Depth at Receiver
The fourth-year receiver is coming off of his first Pro Bowl campaign after posting 107 receptions for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson posted a 74.2 offensive grade and 74.6 receiving grade last season. Among all receivers with at least 100 targets, Johnson ranked 25th in offensive grade and 27th in receiving grade.
Furthermore, Johnson only dropped six passes on 166 targets (5.3 percent) during the 2021 season.
For perspective, the Steelers’ next best receiver — Chase Claypool — posted a 67.7 offensive grade and 69.1 receiving grade last season. Claypool had more drops (seven drops) while facing just 103 targets (10.6 percent). The 23-year-old Claypool actually led the NFL in drop percentage.
Considering the Steelers are coming off of a 2022 NFL draft that saw them select two receivers (George Pickens in the second round and Calvin Austin in the fourth round), Pittsburgh may not be inclined to sign Johnson to a big deal. It’s no secret the Steelers have had tremendous success in developing receivers over the past decade (Claypool, Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Juju Smith-Schuster).
They may lean towards the development of Pickens and Austin over signing Johnson to a long-term deal.
With the Steelers in a rebuild of sorts — rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett will likely start at some point — Johnson may have to sign his big-money deal elsewhere.