No, Steelers Are Still Not Trading Diontae Johnson

Diontae Johnson Mike Tomlin

The Pittsburgh Steelers made a surprise move yesterday in acquiring veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson via trade from the Los Angeles Rams, pending a physical. The former Pro Bowler is coming off surgery, so a clean bill of health is not a guarantee, but the Steelers don’t exactly have a history of being sticklers for that, as Ladarius Green, Brandon Boykin, William Jackson III, Larry Ogunjobi, and surely others can attest.

Either way, however, it doesn’t mean anything for Diontae Johnson. Now, I know this is going to get a lot of comments of the “duh” variety, but I’ve seen more than enough comments since the news came out on the subject, including about half a dozen in beat reporter chats yesterday, to know that it is a thought that’s out there.

The Steelers were never going to trade Diontae Johnson last year. They weren’t going to trade him this offseason, either. Acquiring Allen Robinson now doesn’t make it any more likely. What it does is give them a veteran option in the slot as a one-year rental.

A former second-round pick out of Penn State, Robinson has had a pretty productive nine-year career with some ebbs and flows. He has three 1,000-yard seasons, though only one year with more than seven receiving touchdowns. He also hasn’t often had quality quarterback play.

There is reason to believe, or at least hope, that he can be more productive in Pittsburgh in 2023 with a second-year Kenny Pickett and a more mature, evolving, and adaptive offense, which includes improved pass protection and a more balanced approach.

But the move doesn’t mean anything beyond 2023. The Los Angeles Rams were trying to get rid of Robinson and they had to take on half of his remaining salary for this season ($5 million) after having already paid him more than that in a March roster bonus. And all they got was a swap of seventh-round picks.

As with the aforementioned Jackson, and with Joe Schobert before him, Pittsburgh is taking on an affordable one-year deal that has phantom years attached to it. By phantom years I mean years that exist but which they have no intention of making use of, and for which they have no obligation.

As part of his three-year, $46.5 million extension last season, Robinson was slated to earn $10 million in base salary in 2024 with a $5.75 million roster bonus. Barring a truly spectacular season that clearly looks repeatable, it’s hard to conceive of any plausible scenario in which he plays out the 2024 season under those terms.

Those who are still hoping the Steelers have an itch to trade Johnson had better hope that they draft a wide receiver on day two next week, because that’s the only conceivable ammunition possible on the horizon that might indicate they have any willingness to move him.

Sure, the Chicago Bears foolishly gave up a second-round pick for Chase Claypool last year. But look at what the Rams just gave up for Robinson. Any team taking on Johnson would owe him $8 million for 2023 and $10 million for 2024. Offsetting the financial responsibilities, it’s hard to see any team being willing to offer much more than a late mid-round pick for him, especially coming off of a zero-touchdown season.

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