Should the Steelers extend or trade WR Diontae Johnson?

Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

Diontae Johnson is projected to get a massive new extension soon. Should the Steelers seek to trade him or give him or fork up big money?

Buffalo Bills wide receiver, Stefon Diggs, recently received a massive contract extension that made him one of the richest skill players in the NFL. The two-time Pro Bowler recently inked a four-year, $104 million deal with the Bills — making him one of the highest-paid receivers on the planet.

The annual value of Diggs’ contract comes in at $26 million. Just a few weeks back, Davante Adams became the highest-paid receiver in the NFL at $28 million in annual earnings. Even lesser receivers like Christian Kirk earned fat paychecks in free agency this offseason.

To be quite frank, the wide receiver market has been thrown out of whack this offseason, and the Pittsburgh Steelers may have no choice but to follow suit with Diontae Johnson.

Based on current WR contracts around the league, Spotrac updated their contract predictions for some of the young wide receivers around the league who will be getting new deals soon. They predict Johnson raking in a four-year deal worth $88 million:

This would be a whopping $22 million in yearly value for a receiver who has really struggled with consistency early in his NFL career. A contract like this would instantly make him one of the highest-paid players on the Steelers and potentially even slide him into the top-five highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL in terms of yearly value, via Over the Cap.

Because of the messed-up wide receiver market, the Steelers have a very difficult decision to make when it comes to Diontae Johnson.

Could Steelers trade Johnson?

One thing the Steelers can’t (or rather shouldn’t) do is let Johnson walk after his rookie contract. Though he was a former third-round pick, he has grossly outplayed his former draft status and he’s still far too valuable to let him walk away for nothing in free agency.

If Pittsburgh decides to do so, the most they can hope to receive in return would be a third-round compensatory pick. However, this hinges on how they spend money in free agency, and it’s possible that this compensation could be canceled out entirely.

Because of this, I think the Steelers either need to extend Johnson or trade him. Finding a trade partner could be difficult though.

While there may be teams interested in Johnson’s services thanks to his youth, production, and ability to win before and after the catch as an ‘X’ receiver, whoever trades for him understands that they would not only be giving up good draft capital but they would also be forced to make him one of the highest-paid receivers in the league.

This would likely mean that Johnson probably couldn’t fetch more than a second-round pick via trade in his current state. Still, an early day-two pick would at least make the Steelers think about the idea of a trade. Pittsburgh has an excellent track record of finding WR talent on day two, and they could throw this pick back into a cheaper, younger wide receiver.

The downfall is not knowing what you would be getting. Though they can find a serviceable player in his stead, the chances that the player they find turns out to be better than Johnson doesn’t seem very good, and I think he’s actually a little bit underrated with this fanbase.

Johnson gets a bad rap because of his history of drops, but he actually was much more consistent last season despite poor QB play. I think the most likely solution is that the Steelers decide to give him a contract extension.

While I hate caving to a wide receiver market that is all out of whack, it’s just something that they may have to do in order to keep their most important skill player around. Johnson at least offers one secure option in Pittsburgh’s passing game who can get open with ease vs top coverages.

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If I were the Steelers, I would at least entertain the idea of trading Johnson so that they don’t have to make him one of the highest-paid wide receivers in football. However, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot of depth to leverage with at the WR position. I think this is an extension that gets done before next offseason.