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Why The Steelers Won’t Extend Diontae Johnson, and That’s Not a Bad Thing

Joe Sargent / Getty Images

Why The Steelers Won’t Extend Diontae Johnson, and That’s Not a Bad Thing

It may seem like Pittsburgh Steelers have a situation at hand when it comes to Diontae Johnson and his contract, but the writing is on the wall on what the team might do with its best receiver after this season.

Johnson is entering the fourth year in the league this season, and is coming off his first Pro Bowl year last season. He has been great for the Steelers, hauling in over 2,700 yards in his career (including 1,161 last season alone) and 20 touchdowns. Pro Football Reference‘s Approximate Value score of 9 for his last season was the best of his young career.

Johnson is a part of the incredibly good receiving class of the 2019 Draft that includes Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin, AJ Brown, and DK Metcalf. All of these receivers are dealing with contact disputes with the exception of AJ Brown, who has already signed an extension after the Philadelphia Eagles traded for him before this year’s draft.

Brown’s extension was a four-year, $100M contract with $57M guaranteed. That is a lofty, heavy number but well worth it for Brown, who has been one of the top receivers since he was drafted. Brown has two 1,000 yard seasons and was five yards away this past season from eclipsing 3,000 for his career, even though he missed multiple games due to injury.

AJ Brown Eagles Steelers

PHILADELPHIA, PA – JUNE 03: A.J. Brown #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles look on during OTAs at the NovaCare Complex on June 3, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Johnson compares pretty closely in numbers, which is pretty surprising when you think about the impact Brown had on the Tennessee Titans compared to what Johnson has done with the Steelers. With Johnson putting it out there that he wants a new contract, would he really be worth a contract that’s near the price that the Eagles paid for Brown? And an even better question to ask, can the Steelers live without him?

I would argue yes. Here’s why:

 

The Steelers are in good condition with their current receiving corps

The team recently took George Pickens in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft and Calvin Austin III in the fourth, who are two receivers that should be significant contributors in the offense this season. The Steelers already have Chase Claypool, who is looking to take a step forward after showing potential in his first two seasons. Pittsburgh also signed Miles Boykin from the Baltimore Ravens and brought in Anthony Miller, two experienced and veteran NFL receivers that should provide depth for the team.

George Pickens Steelers

PITTSBURGH, PA – MAY 25: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens (14) takes part in a drill during the team’s OTA practice on May 25, 2022, at the Steelers Practice Facility in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Steelers have Johnson for this year on top of all of the aforementioned players, so the discussion turns to what it would look like after this season. Pickens and Austin will be in their second years after being strong contributors (I assume) this season. Claypool takes a step forward after saying he can be a top three receiver at his best, and Boykin and Miller become solid depth pieces for the offense. Add breakout TE Pat Freiermuth to the pass-catching mix, and you start to ask if the Steelers really NEED Johnson. The team could even sign another receiver next free agency period or draft one like they do every season, which leads to my next point.

 

The Steelers breed receivers

The Steelers are synonymous with breeding receivers. They are known far and wide across the league for being the best at drafting and developing receivers. Even in recent memory, they have had tremendous success with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Going back even further, James Washington was a solid receiver for years for the Steelers and JuJu Smith-Schuster was as well. They endured some misses with Sammie Coates and Demarcus Ayers, but this was back when they didn’t need to be developing anyone due to the incredible performance of Antonio Brown and sidekick performance from Martavis Bryant. This leads to my final point.

Steelers Antonio Brown Martavius Bryant

Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers Antonio Brown (#84) and Martavis Bryant (#10) celebrate. | Steelers.com

 

The Steelers rarely extend receivers past their rookie contract

It’s just a proven fact. Outside of Antonio Brown and Hines Ward, no Steeler receivers of recent memory have received serious contract extensions to play with the Steelers long-term. Smith-Schuster received one last season, but it was more of a prove-it deal because of its one year of length.

These last two points usually go hand-in-hand with each other. The team knows they can draft and develop the wideout position. Paying receivers big time money is not as important to them, and therefore keeps the position low-paid and gives the team opportunities to upgrade at other positions of need.

At the end of the day, it’s smart. Management and front office have been around the block. They know what to do and have philosophies that they run the team with, and they know what is best for the team.

 

What do you think, #SteelerNation? Should the Steelers keep around Diontae Johnson? Should they pay him what he deserves, or ride with who they have and continue to trust their development? Let me know in the comments below or @anthonyravasio on Twitter.

I'm Anthony "Rav" Ravasio and I'm a Pittsburgh native currently at Arizona State University studying sports journalism. I attended North Catholic High School in Cranberry and grew up cheering for these Steelers the whole way through. In my spare time, I love to spend time with friends or family, as well as grow my knowledge for sports in many different ways! Follow me on Twitter @anthonyravasio

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