As the Pittsburgh Steelers strapped up their pads for the first time this camp on Monday, wide receiver Diontae Johnson remained on the sideline.
The 26-year-old wideout is seeking a contract extension with a substantial raise, as he is the last remaining receiver of note from the 2019 draft class to not get one.
Even though he is first in receptions (254) and fourth in yards (2,764) and touchdowns (20) among his fellow classmates, Johnson is still awaiting his own payday. While that reward will come eventually, it probably won’t and shouldn’t in Pittsburgh.
I have a theory — rather a prediction — regarding how all these generous wide receivers deals will play out two, three years down the road.
Similar to how big contracts for the wrong quarterback (i.e. Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz) have put teams in difficult situations, I believe these inflated wide receiver deals will be the next cautionary tale.
Organizations will learn quickly that investing big money in the position may sell tickets and generate highlights, but it will not have the impact on winning that they hope.
Behind quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher, inside linebacker and cornerback, where does wide receiver fall in the hierarchy of important positions that truly impact winning? I would not say top five.
And in an era where wide receivers enter the league more polished and physically-gifted than ever before, does it sound like a wise business decision to pay an at best top 25 wide receiver upwards of $20 million? I would say no.
Given the Steelers’ track record of drafting and developing wideouts, it appears a much more savvy and frugal path to continue with that strategy in lieu of paying Johnson.
Rookie receiver George Pickens has been turning heads early in his first training camp. History tells us he is likely headed towards an eventual Pro Bowl season, as is the next drafted wide receiver, and the next one, and the next one…
Therefore, instead of finding themselves in the same cap-strapped predicament as their peers, the Steelers will have upwards of $20 million available to them.
These other franchises, on the other hand, will find themselves paying for empty receptions and yards that have not had the impact on winning games they had initially hoped.
Pittsburgh has always stuck to tradition with these matters, and more often than not avoids blindly following the trends of the rest of the league. They should not start now.
There is no denying Diontae Johnson deserves to be paid. But I’m just saying another organization will be happy to cash that check when the Steelers do not.