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Pittsburgh Steelers offering Diontae Johnson below market value, 2023 departure likely

Matt Johnson

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. Barring a dramatic change in the club’s approach to negotiations, it will also be his last season in Pittsburgh.

Johnson, the 66th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, has emerged as the No. 1 receiver in the Steelers’ offense. After earning second-team All-Pro honors in his rookie season, the Toledo alum made the Pro Bowl this past year.

  • Diontae Johnson stats (2021): 1,161 receiving yards, 59 first downs, eight touchdowns

He remains integral to the passing attack and is expected to be a go-to target for quarterback Mitch Trubisky this fall. While the Steelers do value his contributions, it seems the gap in contract talks makes a separation in 2023 a near guarantee.

Related: Pittsburgh Steelers’ Diontae Johnson unhappy with contract

Addressing Johnson’s contract talks with Pittsburgh, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic shed light on where things stand. While the 25-year-old wants to become one of the highest paid receivers in the NFL, it seems he and the Steelers are on very different pages regarding his value.

“They aren’t offering him anything near McLaurin or anybody else that got more than $20 million per year. They will offer him something, and it won’t be what he thinks he can get on the market, and he will get paid next year somewhere else.”

Mark Kaboly of The Athletic on Pittsburgh Steelers offer to Diontae Johnson

Heading into training camp, 11 wide receivers are playing on a deal with at least a $20 million per year AAV. Keep in mind, the figure will be even higher before the 2023 season with Deebo Samuel and DK Metcalf poised to easily make $25-plus million per year.

Johnson sees the direction the market is headed. NFL teams are anticipating further explosions of the salary cap and salaries will climb because of it.

Unfortunately for Johnson, it became evident during the 2022 NFL Draft that the Steelers were preparing for life without him. Pittsburgh drafted George Pickens with the 52nd overall pick then added Calvin Austin in the fourth round. It’s reasonable to expect another wideout will be added early in the 2023 NFL Draft.

As a result, Johnson will have to prove himself for other teams this year. Given the Steelers’ organization has made it fairly clear that he isn’t a part of their long-term goal, Johnson should be more motivated than ever this year. Of course, playing in a contract year could also mean he protects himself if he suffers an injury by sitting out to preserve his potential future earnings.

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