One day after new GM Omar Khan told reporters that the Pittsburgh Steelers want wide receiver Diontae Johnson around for a long time as a key part of the Steelers’ offense as it transitions into a new era, the two sides remain “far apart” in negotiations as Johnson’s hold-in drags on another day, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Steelers Insider Gerry Dulac.
Johnson, who is seeking an extension with the black and gold that would pay him more than $20 million per season to match the current market rate at the position, which has exploded in recent months, has participated in individual drills at times during training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, but has yet to participate in team sessions, conducting a hold-in of sorts, much like star linebacker T.J. Watt did last summer before inking a massive extension.
That hold-in doesn’t seem to be working for Johnson from the Steelers’ perspective like Watt’s did, at least according to Dulac’s report Wednesday morning from training camp.
“According to a team source, the sides are so far apart from what Johnson is seeking and what the Steelers are willing to spend, the plausibility of getting a deal done before the Sept. 11 season opener in Cincinnati is slim,” Dulac writes in his report for the Post-Gazette Wednesday morning.
The Steelers would like to have Johnson on the field practicing with his new teammates, particularly quarterback Mitch Trubisky as the Steelers gear up for a period of transition in 2022. However, with his asking price remaining relatively firm on a new deal, Johnson is holding himself out of team drills in an effort to not only avoid injury, but to try and force the Steelers’ hand to get their top offensive weapon back on the field.
“You want everyone out practicing, but we’ve taken the approach we’re using it as an opportunity to look at other guys that are practicing, especially the young guys,” Khan said to reporters Tuesday, according to video via Steelers.com. “We want Diontae. We’re excited to have him be a part of this team, and we hope he’s going to be a Steeler for a long time.”
So far, it’s not working, at least from Dulac’s perspective.
Though Johnson’s true asking price is not known, he’s had to watch the likes of Seattle’s DK Metcalf and San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel ink large extensions north of $20 million per year in recent days. Johnson, for what it’s worth, has put up better numbers than both of those receivers three years into his career. While the argument can be made that Metcalf and Samuel are better players overall than Johnson, there’s no denying the production of the Steelers’ receiver, which has put him in the top 10 in the NFL the last few seasons since coming into the league as a third-round pick in 2019.
Now, in a contract year, Johnson wants an extension, and wants to stay with the Steelers. According to Dulac, the chances of getting an extension done before the start of the 2022 season are “slim.” Under Khan, the Steelers wouldn’t negotiate in-season either, just like Kevin Colbert never did due to the Rooney mandate from years and years ago.
The Steelers and Johnson’s representative, Brad Cicala, are communicating with one another, but there’s been no movement on a deal, per Dulac, even with Cicala at training camp Tuesday in Latrobe to visit with Johnson and fellow client Benny Snell Jr., and presumably to also meet with Khan in person regarding a Johnson deal.