New Trade Proposal Has Steelers Dealing Key WR to Cowboys

Mike Tomlin

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images Head Coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers on the sidelines against the Tennessee Titans on August 25, 2019.

It’s approaching decision time for the Pittsburgh Steelers, at least when it comes to fourth-year wide receiver Dionate Johnson. New general manager Omar Khan must decide whether to: try to sign the former third-round pick to a contract extension; allow him to play out his rookie contract and test free agency in 2023; or trade him prior to this year’s trade deadline.

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Diontae Johnson to the Cowboys for a 2nd-Round Pick?

Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report suggests going with the latter option, arguing that the Steelers are in the midst of a rebuild and ought to get something for their No. 1 receiving option while they still can. Specifically, he proposes sending Johnson to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a 2023 second-round pick, which would re-unite Johnson with former teammate James Washington, who signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys in free agency.

“While wideout Diontae Johnson would help the Steelers’ next quarterback tremendously — he had 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns this past season — his Pittsburgh future is uncertain,” offers Knox, a nod to the fact that Johnson is entering the last year of his rookie deal and the Steelers may not be willing to give him the kind of second contract that receivers are commanding, with the three-years, $70 million that Washington gave Terry McLaurin a representative example.

“Dallas is talented enough to make a Super Bowl push in the NFC but could use another veteran receiver to remain in the upper echelon,” adds Knox, having noted that Dallas traded Amari Cooper and lost Cedrick Wilson Jr. earlier in the offseason. That leaves them with the aforementioned Washington, plus 2020 first-round pick CeeDee Lamb, 2022 third-round pick Jalen Tolbert, and presumed No. 2 receiver Michael Gallup, who is coming off a torn ACL.

Arguably the biggest reason that this deal won’t happen is that Gallup is on a $57 million contract that runs through the 2026 season and the Cowboys will want to save money to extend Lamb. Of course, Dallas isn’t going to part with a second-round pick for Johnson unless they can secure his services for 2023 and beyond.

It’s also highly debatable whether the Steelers are actually in a rebuild, and Pittsburgh needs Johnson if it hopes to compete for the AFC North title this year. After all, 2020 second-round pick Chase Claypool is Pittsburgh’s only other proven NFL receiver, unless you count former Bears second-round pick Anthony Miller, who has 227 career receptions but only six since leaving Chicago after the 2020 season.


What Will Actually Happen With Diontae Johnson?

In the Kevin Colbert era, Pittsburgh would most likely let Johnson play out his deal, then hope that Claypool or rookie George Pickens ultimately proves himself worthy of a highly lucrative second contract.

Keep in mind that only two receivers received a second multi-year deal from the Steelers during Colbert’s tenure, namely Hines Ward and Antonio Brown, both of whom have resumes that warrant Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration.

But with Khan leading the way, it’s possible the Steelers will tweak their approach to the wide receiver position. And the fact that star wideouts like Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill have been traded this offseason, makes it seem a lot more plausible that Johnson could be moved, either for a draft pick or another player.

Still, the most likely outcome is the one presented by Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, who believes “(t)he Steelers will offer him what they believe is market value, then the decision will be up to Johnson whether he wants to accept it or test free agency next year.”

Johnson, who turns 26 on July 5, has started 39 of the 47 NFL games in which he has appeared and has 254 career catches for 2,764 yards with 20 receiving touchdowns, as per Pro Football Reference.

In addition to Johnson, Claypool and Miller, Pittsburgh’s receiving corps features two rookies in George Pickens and “day 3 draft steal” Calvin Austin III, plus former Ravens receiver Miles Boykin, Cody White and kick return specialist Gunner Olszewski, a former Patriots All-Pro who was added in free agency.

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