Ben Roethlisberger Says Diontae Johnson Deserves Long-Term Deal

Diontae Johnson and Ben Roethlisberger

Consider Ben Roethlisberger in Diontae Johnson’s corner. With Johnson poised to conduct a “hold-in,” not practice until and if he receives a contract extension, Roethlisberger believes the Steelers should pay him. He appeared on 102.5 WDVE Thursday morning to talk about Johnson’s situation and why he deserves to get a deal done.

“I know he probably wants something and you know what, I think he deserves a contract,” he told WDVE’s Mike Prisuta. “I think he’s played really, really well. And I think he’s one of, if not the, best player on that offense. As this season goes on, I’m hoping he is out there playing.”

Johnson is entering the final year of his rookie year and has served as the Steelers’ #1 receiver the last two seasons. Over that span, he’s caught 195 passes for 2,084 yards and 15 touchdowns serving as the team’s high-volume “X” receiver and top threat in the passing game. He’s fit Pittsburgh’s scheme of throwing short to create YAC opportunities well and is one of the league’s strongest route runners.

The wide receiver market has exploded this offseason. It began with the Jacksonville Jaguars paying Christian Kirk over $18 million per year despite Kirk never recording a 1,000-yard season. That set the bar for all the others who got paid. Mike Williams, Hunter Renfrow, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Cooper Kupp, and Terry McLaurin. Based on those deals, especially McLaurin’s, Johnson is likely to be asking for well over $20 million per season. Pittsburgh may deem that price tag too high and that doesn’t even consider the structure of the deal. It’s unknown if the Steelers would be willing to guarantee money beyond the first year as they’ve done for T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Getting a deal done with Johnson isn’t impossible but would require overcoming plenty of obstacles.

Roethlisberger confirmed he’s spoken with Johnson about his situation.

“I actually was texting with Diontae on a couple days ago… I don’t even know what’s going on so he kind of filled me in a little bit on some stuff. I just told him, I said, ‘listen, you are an unbelievable football player.’ And I know that he is. It can be frustrating at times, you know?”

For now, Johnson seems set to conduct his hold-in. Meaning, he’ll practice on a very limited basis, going through some of the initial warmup and install for the day, work in the stretch line, and then work off to the side with one of the Steelers’ coaches and occasionally jog around as he did yesterday with the injured Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The question becomes – what if a deal doesn’t happen? Is Johnson prepared to go the entire summer, training camp and preseason, without practicing? That’s what happened last year with Watt but that deal felt inevitable, just delayed, and Watt had more leverage as one of the game’s best players about to get paid as such. The odds of Johnson receiving an extension aren’t as certain, and it’s possible Johnson enters Week 1 without a deal or any practice time.

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