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Steelers Analysis

Trading Diontae Johnson Makes No Sense



Diontae Johnson

There have been trade rumors that are swirling around Diontae Johnson in recent days since Pittsburgh acquired Allen Robinson II. My only response to these rumors is that they make such little sense for the Steelers as presently constructed it’s quite crazy that these rumors even exist.

Let’s take this from the macro view right away. In what way does Robinson coming aboard make Johnson expendable? There is only one way, and that is they can both play on the outside. However, Robinson should expect most of his time to be allotted out into the slot. Not only that, these are two vastly different receivers. Johnson is a primary receiver that can separate at an extremely high level. Meanwhile, Robinson is a big, physical receiver who is more of a possession player.

But let’s keep it there on that theme. Outside of Johnson, is there anyone who is a proven separator on this roster? The answer is no and if you are not giving your young quarterback a guy who can separate at all three levels consistently, you are doing something horribly wrong on the roster construction front. Simply put, Johnson is not the type of guy to move unless you have that clear heir. Add in the fact that it’s a historically bad wide receiver class and where is that replacement coming from at this point?

That is the thing that always amazes me with these rumors. Listen, I’m not going to sit here and lecture you that Diontae Johnson is some perfect player. I think over the years of watching him, there are some maddeningly inconsistent things about his game. However, let’s also understand that his skillset in the NFL is both pretty rare and simply not super replaceable. Pittsburgh would need great compensation to make this trade at this point.

Johnson will be the top receiver in a receiving corps that is going to be bet on to make Kenny Pickett a star. Let’s not understate that point here, either. Are the Steelers really comfortable taking away Pickett’s top receiver in a year where he needs to make that all-important second-year leap? Smartly, I would imagine that the answer to that question is a resounding no.

Johnson did not have a stellar year by his standards, but this is near the point of absurdity. The Steelers finally have the three receivers they need to have a solid offense in the NFL in this day and age. Trading Johnson not only makes wide receiver the top need on the entire team but that deals a huge blow to the guy you hope is the franchise quarterback.

Johnson is set to count for $16.3 million against the Steelers’ salary cap in 2023. Trading him before June 1 would incur an $11.7 million dead cap hit. Even after June 1, the Steelers would be in the red on a trade on the cap, too. In other words, this did not make sense when it first surfaced in January and it still does not. Johnson should be a Steeler in 2023 and rightfully so.

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