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Ex-NFL GM Believes Steelers Traded Diontae Johnson Too Soon

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Steelers WR Diontae Johnson

Many believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers made the right decision by trading wide receiver Diontae Johnson to the Carolina Panthers this offseason. Johnson was becoming a malcontent in the locker room, often getting into heated arguments with teammates.

Johnson’s time with Pittsburgh probably ran its course, but the Steelers haven’t replaced his production. They are still without a No. 2 wide receiver. The team thinks someone will naturally step up and fill the void. Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni even said labeling receivers in a number system is overrated.

Former Buffalo Bills general manager and Steelers executive Doug Whaley thinks the Steelers traded Johnson too soon. He believes the team didn’t have a proper Plan B.

“That was one of those where that move backed them in the corner,” Whaley told 93.7 The Fan Wednesday morning. “And it didn’t set them up for the next move.”

Steelers WR Diontae Johnson

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson before his team’s game against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 2, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Mike Tomlin said at the NFL owner’s meetings in late March that a desire to upgrade the team’s cornerback position was the driving force behind the team trading veteran wide receiver Diontae Johnson to the Carolina Panthers, and that Johnson did not specifically request a trade. There were reports that Johnson was unhappy with the team and wanted out.

The Steelers got veteran cornerback Dontae Jackson in the Johnson trade package with Carolina, which Tomlin felt was an essential need.

“Really, it was simple, man,” he said. “We traded player for player. We had an opportunity to get D-Jack (Donte Jackson). D-Jack is a guy that we’ve evaluated probably several times since he’s been in the league, when he came out of LSU, when he faced free agency. We needed some assistance in depth and quality players at that position, so we made the move. They needed Diontae, we needed D-Jack. It was a good exchange.”

Johnson also wasn’t really fond of Kenny Pickett as a quarterback. He publicly declared after the season that he hoped Mason Rudolph was the starter again. With the revamped quarterback room and new offensive coordinator in Arthur Smith, Whaley would’ve liked to see how it played out under the new system.

“Bring him into the offseason and see how he adapts and really gels with the new quarterbacks, the new OC. Maybe he turns it around like… ‘Now maybe I’m not gonna be such a malcontent. Maybe I’m gonna be happy, man,'” Whaley said.

What is done is done now, though. And Johnson is thrilled to be in Carolina.

“I was surprised [when the trade happened] but blessed at the same time, you know – fresh start somewhere,” Johnson said. “I had been in Pittsburgh for five years. Coming here, it’s different. Just still trying to get acclimated and I’m enjoying the process so far.”

Johnson said in March that the Steelers did not want to trade him to an AFC team, and Carolina is where they ended up settling.

“I guess they didn’t want to trade me nowhere in the AFC. I’m here now in the NFC. It is what it is. They did what they feel they had to was best on their part. I couldn’t really do nothing about that. So I’m gonna make plays with whatever team I was on or got traded to. I’m here in Carolina, so I’m here to work,” Johnson said.