clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The time for the Steelers to get maximum value in a Diontae Johnson trade is now

The Steelers should be listening to any trade inquiries for Diontae Johnson, because his value will likely never be higher.

Detroit Lions v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers should seriously consider trading their best, and only Pro Bowl, wide receiver Diontae Johnson this offseason.

I am sure to get some push back for even suggesting such a thing, but I feel very strongly it would be the best option for both parties moving forward.

I will try to explain my reasoning behind this opinion, and let our knowledgeable community formulate their own.

Diontae Johnson is a good football player. He has shown improvement each year in the league, culminating with his first Pro Bowl season in 2021.

Like every player, Johnson has strengths and weaknesses. To his credit, he has worked tirelessly to improve upon his strong points, and his shortcomings, at least the ones within his control.

Johnson's quickness and short area burst allow him to get instant separation. It makes him extremely hard and dangerous for any defender to jam at the line of scrimmage. He is as quick as a hiccup in a short area.

After Johnson's sophomore campaign saw him lead the NFL in dropped passes, his hard work and dedication in the offseason resulted in marked improvement in his catch percentage. At least until a late season relapse marred an otherwise impressive bounce back performance.

One area of concern no amount of offseason dedication can improve is Johnson's diminutive physique. The young man is extremely fit, actually quite sinewy and slender. His frame impacts his performance on multiple levels.

Johnson's elite short area quickness and ability to gain almost instantaneous separation would seem to suggest strong slot receiver potential, but he lacks the toughness and fearlessness for the position.

Johnson struggles with contested catches. He doesn't have the size and power to be an effective run after the catch player, because he isn't built to break tackles, and he shies away from contact to avoid injuries.

Even with those limitations, Johnson has become a proven performer by focusing on his aforementioned attributes.

Now back to the question. Why do I feel it would behoove the Steelers to trade their best wide receiver, especially when they are already short-handed at the position?

First, I consider the Steelers to be smack dab in the middle of a rebuild. The Steelers, as presently constructed, are not a championship caliber roster. If everything goes perfectly this season, and they catch plenty of fortuitous bounces, they could sneak into the playoffs again. But really, how often does everything fall perfectly into place? I think we all know the answer to that.

Based on that knowledge alone, there is no rational way to defend the Steelers spending WR1 type money on a WR2 type player. The players who keep being mentioned every time Johnson's future salary comes up are all elite WR1 type performers: Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, etc.

Johnson just isn't on their level, in my opinion.

Here's the kicker in this whole discussion. Johnson's success in 2021 was the direct result of an anemic offense. He was the biggest beneficiary of the Steelers’ inability to develop and maintain any semblance of a running game. A combination of an ineffective and inexperienced offensive line, and an immobile future Hall of Fame quarterback, resulted in the Steelers having no more than two seconds to get the pass off, often in third and long yardage situations.

Any receiver who could get quick separation off the line of scrimmage would have seen plenty of targets as a result, and Johnson definitely benefitted from being the sole Steelers receiver who met that criteria. He ended up leading the league in total targets.

Ben Roethlisberger is now retired, and hopefully he took last season's atrocious offense with him. In his stead is the far younger, and more mobile, Mitch Trubisky, if he wins the starting quarterback position in training camp. Regardless of who wins the starting spot, the Steelers offense will look strikingly different in 2022.

More snaps from center, rollouts, and misdirection plays. Hopefully the increase in creativity, coupled with the influx of talent across the offensive line, should lessen the need for insanely quick throws from the quarterback, and get all of the Steelers skill position talent more involved in the offense.

The skill position player who potentially could be affected the most by these offensive changes is undoubtedly Diontae Johnson. His yards per reception average should improve substantially, but his total targets are likely to decrease drastically. This is a concerning development, seeing how his Pro Bowl season in 2021 was driven by an abnormal amount of opportunities.

Johnson is going into a contract season, and he undoubtedly wants to have another Pro Bowl caliber season. It's time to get paid after all.

Problem is for the Steelers to achieve the type of offensive improvement they are striving for, Johnson will likely have to sacrifice personal accomplishments for team success.

That can prove to be a difficult ask for any player in a contract season. Based on Johnson's past struggles with focus and concentration on multiple occasions thus far in his young career, I see the potential for problems on the 2022 horizon.

You buy low, and you sell high. I fear Johnson's value may never be higher than right now.