In the biggest controversy to hit Steeler Nation since the time Mason “The Devil” Rudolph didn’t go workout with Mitch Trubisky in Florida, Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson may or may not be attending the team’s first week of voluntary offseason workouts that started on Monday, and this may or may not be due to an ongoing contract dispute.
Below is a Tweet from Andrew “The Pot Stirrer” Fillipponi, a co-host on 93.7 The Fan’s The PM Team radio show, on Monday which got the outrage ball rolling:
“Source: Diontae Johnson did not attend the start of the Steelers voluntary offseason program today. The man wants paid. Like his perceived WR peers. McLaurin, Metcalf, Deebo Samuel.”
Johnson then took to Twitter, himself, to dispute these rumors in the cryptic way that seems to be fairly popular with professional athletes these days:
“Don’t believe everything you see lol”
Sady, for Johnson, the horse was already out of the barn, and he quickly went from Diontae “The Dropper” Johnson to Diontae “The Diva” Johnson, as fans went from going about their business to total outrage in mere seconds.
Immediately, comments such as “holding the Steelers hostage” and “volunteers not hostages” began to dominate message boards, comment sections and social media platforms related to Steelers news.
“When will Steelers receivers ever able normal?” someone rhetorically asked. “I wonder what they can get in a trade for him?” someone else also asked not so rhetorically.
“He’s just not reliable enough,” said many when it came to Johnson’s bad habit of dropping the ball—something that he spent the majority of the 2021 campaign not doing until the very end when the dropsies again reared their ugly head just long enough for people to remember.
It’s no secret that Johnson, who is in the final year of his rookie deal and is fresh off his first 100-plus catch and Pro Bowl season, wants a new contract for a lot more money. For all we know, Johnson may actually decide to not fully participate in these voluntary offseason workouts because he wants to prove a point to his bosses and/or avoid a potential injury that could affect his ability to get paid when and if he hits the free-agent market.
It's certainly happened before.
Remember last year when news broke that T.J. Watt wasn’t fully participating in mandatory training camp sessions for reasons that had to do with an ongoing contract negotiation that didn’t get resolved until days before the start of the regular season? I don’t remember anyone calling Watt a diva or saying he was selfish. In fact, fans were on Twitter constantly nagging the Steelers about paying Watt, as were his teammates, who made their desire to see their guy get paid very public.
What’s the difference? Is this like that time Prince, the late, great musician, said, “I don’t believe in time, I only believe in truth”? If a random guy said that to you on the bus, you’d think he was crazy and do everything in your power to get away from him. But Prince says it, and you’re like, “That’s awesome, Prince. I’m going to say this to girls at parties!”
I guess the difference in the case of Johnson and his contract concerns is that he’s a receiver—the crazy, random guy on the bus to Steelers fans (in their defense, Antonio Brown has done little to help that perception in recent years).
Even if it turns out to be true and Johnson doesn’t participate in offseason workouts, is this something worth caring about? I say it’s not because these offseason workouts are (say it with me) voluntary.
I feel like I have to write one of these articles every offseason because this situation seems to pop up with the Steelers or some other team each spring.
There’s one way to make these offseason workouts mandatory, and that’s to stop making them voluntary.
We shouldn’t have to have these debates every offseason. Head coaches shouldn’t be forced to say things like, “I can only worry about the people who are here.” Teammates shouldn’t be forced to act all passive-aggressive in the media: “I love D.J. He’s great in the locker room and in the community. He donated one of his kidneys to my gram last year. I wish he was here so we could build some chemistry, but he’s not. He’s gotta do what’s best for him and his family, and I respect that, even though, as I’ve already said, I really, really wish he was here.”
Fans are always saying things like, “If I did that at my job....” OK, imagine if your boss held a team-building event on your day off and hinted that you SHOULD attend even if you weren’t required to. Say you didn't go to this event and your boss harassed you for it, even in a passive-aggressive way, how soon before you contacted human resources and/or a lawyer?
If NFL owners/general managers/head coaches really think these offseason workouts are that important, they should fight to make them mandatory when the next CBA is being negotiated. Make anything less a deal-breaker.
Until then, we should all shut up about it.
Although I should thank Diontae Johnson for giving me, Anthony “Clickbait” Defeo, something to write about that’s not draft-related.