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Diontae Johnson Caught Off Guard Steelers Traded Him

Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson was blindsided by his trade to the Carolina Panthers earlier this offseason.

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Steelers WR Diontae Johnson
Steelers WR Diontae Johnson against the Arizona Cardinals, Dec. 3, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said 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 last month, and that Johnson did not specifically request a trade.

The Steelers got veteran cornerback Dontae Jackson in the Johnson trade package with Carolina, which Tomlin said fills an important 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.”

But Johnson did not expect that to happen. On Tuesday, he met with the Panthers media for the first time since his trade to the Panthers, and he said his trade to Carolina caught him off guard, and that he was genuinely surprised to have been moved from Pittsburgh. Now, he will approach it with a fresh start.

“I was surprised, but blessed at the same time,” Johnson said. “You know, it’s a fresh start somewhere else. I’ve been in Pittsburgh for five years, so coming here is different. I’m still just trying to get acclimated. Just enjoying the process right now.”

Though Tomlin denied that he requested a trade, and it seems he did not, Johnson seemed less and less happy over the years in Pittsburgh. In 2022, he reportedly got into an altercation with the quarterback Mitch Trubisky at halftime of the team’s Week 4 loss to the New York Jets. Last season, Diontae Johnson got into it with Minkah Fitzpatrick after a game. Johnson also wasn’t thrilled with Kenny Pickett possibly being his quarterback. He publicly expressed that he hoped Mason Rudolph would be the starter going forward. Johnson had been entering the final year of his two-year extension with the team. He mentioned the trade came with a little chip on his shoulder, but it’s a business.

“Yeah (it does come with a chip), but it’s a business at the end of the day,” Johnson said. “I can only control what I can control. I’m appreciative of the Panthers taking a chance on me and giving me a fresh start. I’m here to work and turn things around.”

Steelers WR Dionate Johnson

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson celebrates a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 15, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

When Jackson visited the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the first time after being traded from Carolina, he mentioned to Dale Lolley of Steelers.com that Tomlin had been after him for years. Tomlin confirmed that in Orlando.

“Coach Tomlin, he was on me a lot coming out of college, and a lot when I was getting ready to sign my second contract,” Jackson said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I signed a second contract with the Panthers and the Steelers were right there. This past trade deadline, they were right there. And now they’re right there again. So, I just feel like it’s meant to be. I can’t even express the amount of respect and gratitude I have for this organization for not only taking the chance on me but making me a guy that they focus on getting, that they really showed they wanted for years and years now. I’m finally getting to be here.

“I feel like it happened at the time it was supposed to happen. I’ve been playing my best ball. I’m just happy to get out there with this great defense and shock the league. I just can’t wait.”