With Diontae Johnson agreeing to a contract extension with the Steelers today, he was asked why he decided to stay in Pittsburgh and agree to a contract before the season.
“The grass is not always greener on the other side,” Johnson said at his press conference today, per a tweet from Steelers Live.
“You know, I was thinking about that too. But at the end of the day I love being a Steeler You know, I love it here. It changed my career here, just being around my teammates, just being around the atmosphere and the energy that show every day that you want to be around a group of guys like that each and every day. And I feel like I made the right choice. I want to continue to be here for a long time.”
The culture within the Steelers is why it’s rare to see them lose players they view as cornerstones to the franchise. If you think back on Pittsburgh’s all-time greats, few of them played in other uniforms. While there are certainly some exceptions, Pittsburgh makes it a priority to keep guys in-house.
Players who begin their career in Pittsburgh want to play for the team long-term for a litany of reasons, whether it be the stability, the coaching staff, or the other guys they’re playing with, as Johnson mentioned. With recent extensions to T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Chris Boswell as well as Johnson, the team is once again showing a commitment to keeping their own.
While Johnson never played with either of them in Pittsburgh, the recent examples of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown basically seeing their careers flame out after leaving Pittsburgh prove his point that the grass isn’t always greener if he were to leave. Even Bud Dupree had a little bit of a disappointing season with the Titans after he left Pittsburgh.
It’s not as if playing for the Steelers is some magic cure-all that will elevate someone’s level of play, but the culture and stability, in addition to the team being familiar can certainly help players be comfortable. That comfort absolutely can show itself with better performances on the field.
For a player like Johnson, he’s now basically locked in as the team’s WR1 for probably another two seasons, unless George Pickens or Chase Claypool has a monster year. That’s not a role he would be assured with another team, so I’m sure being able to be “the guy” with the Steelers also played a bit of a role in him staying.
Johnson could’ve bet on himself, played out this year under his current contract, entered unrestricted free agency and possibly gotten a larger contract. On the flip side, if he had a down year, his market value could’ve gone down and he would’ve had to settle for a prove-it deal. Instead, he made the choice to sign now, get a raise and try and improve his market value for the next time he enters free agency three years from now, while he’ll still be in his prime. Both sides got what they wanted, and now it’s up to Johnson to show he’s the receiver the Steelers believe he is.