We live in an ever increasing either/or society. "You're either with me, or you're against me" type reality. You can chose Team A or Team B, but you have to make a choice. No middle ground available, absolutely no riding the fence allowed.
The Steelers are already seeing that scenario play out at a couple of offensive positions. The quarterback position was easily predictable. You can be Team Trubisky, Team Pickett, or Team Rudolph. You can be one or the other, but you can't be all three. Every member of each support group are enthusiastic and fiercely committed, some more than others. Each passionate member can rattle off a multitude of feasible reasons for their support, or their lack of faith in the competition.
This promises to be a fascinating camp battle deep into the preseason. Hopefully answers can be gleaned prior to the start of the regular season.
The other polarizing decision for Steelers Nation would be the Diontae Johnson situation.
Based solely on the first practice of training camp, it appears Diontae Johnson is taking a page out of the T.J. Watt training camp playbook from last year, possibly staging his very own 'hold in'. A hold in is when you show up for camp, but you only participate in certain drills and on field activities.
The only problem with that plan is the fact that the two situations are quite different. T.J. Watt had to be considered the odds-on favorite for Defensive Player of the Year going into last season. With the best edge player in the NFL, the question was never if the deal would get done, only when. Absolutely no reason to risk injury while Omar Khan and the pencil pushers combed over the fine print of his record breaking contract. No panic or undo pressure on either side. Watt was going to be locked in for years to come.
Diontae Johnson is a really good wide receiver. With the receiver market blowing up this offseason, a receiver of Johnson's caliber is going to get paid, most likely a substantial pay raise. That reality is not up for debate. The only real question comes down to what is fair market value for Johnson's services, and how much are the Steelers willing to pay for said services?
The truth is the decision doesn't have to be a either/or situation for the Steelers and Steelers Nation. If it turns out that Johnson wants more than the Steelers are willing to fork over, thus pricing himself out of consideration, that doesn't mean that the Steelers don't value his contributions, only that the potential production wouldn't match the compensation.
No way that the Steelers could come close to matching the production loss of their best defender with a replacement level player if T.J. Watt would have taken his elite talents elsewhere. However, Johnson's contributions could possibly be matched, if not even exceeded, by potentially multiple players already on the roster.
The Steelers were talent deficient on offense in 2021. The offense lacked experience and talent at multiple position. It was further limited by a lack of QB mobility, game changing speed, and injuries. Diontae Johnson was a focal point on what was honestly an atrocious offensive attack. He was the only receiver capable of gaining consistent and rapid separation, therefore he was force feed the ball.
Johnson is like the best basketball player on a bad team. He put up impressive numbers because of, and in spite of, his often sub-par teammates. You trade that good player to a more talented team, and that player's numbers will inevitably be impacted. No longer the best, or only capable, player on the team, the new addition will have to make adjustments necessary to contribute to the team. That is the situation that faces Johnson this season.
Nobody is suggesting Johnson is worthless, only questioning if he is worth what it will cost to extend him. Nobody really knows for sure until we see it all play out on the field this season. This will be everyone's first look at how Matt Canada's offense plays at the highest level. The necessary elements are in place, next up is the execution.
The Steelers currently possess the NFL's highest paid defense, and the lowest paid offense. That will undoubtedly change in the near future. Hopefully the Steelers next franchise QB is already on the roster, but regardless if that proves true or not, the Steelers have a plethora of skill position talent that will need to be paid in the near future.
Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth look like potentially elite talents at their positions. Chase Claypool appears ready to take a huge leap forward working the slot. George Pickens and Calvin Austin lll are explosive talents, to say the least. Unlike last season, tons of offensive talent, but only one football.
The offensive line appears to be trending upward after the influx of free agency talent this offseason, especially in the interior. However, the tackle positions are anything but certain, and may need upgraded before the Steelers can reach their full potential. If that happens, you can be sure it will be a costly solution. Even if Dan Moore proves to be the answer at left tackle, he will be in line for a substantial pay raise.
Bottom line, Diontae Johnson may prove more valuable in a more prolific passing attack. He is a elite route runner, who can get open even against top coverage corners. He lacks the size and toughness to make a living out of the slot, the strength to be an efficient blocker, and the speed to be an consistent deep threat. He can be extremely productive in the right system, but Canada's system doesn't appear to be an ideal fit.
I look forward to watching Johnson contribute to a much improved Steelers offense in 2022. Then the Steelers could revisit the possibility of continuing their working relationship with Johnson. But he has to start participating fully in training camp practices for that to happen. If not, a mutually agreed upon trade may be the only solution.