What Diontae Johnson’s return to OTAs means for the Steelers

Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Many questioned Diontae Johnson’s motives when it wasn’t at Steelers OTAs last week, but here’s what his return means for Pittsburgh. 

When Diontae Johnson didn’t show up at the start of Pittsburgh Steelers OTAs, many fans started to sound the alarm. This happened shortly after Johnson failed to make it to his own youth football camp thanks to a flight delay, and many questioned the motive behind his absence for the team’s first full gathering of 2022.

It’s no secret that Johnson wants a new contract after a big third season in 2021, and he and his agent are well aware of the going rate of a quality-wide receiver on the market these days.

Because of this, it caught us a bit off guard when he did indeed show up to Steelers organized team activities on May 31st. Why would he stay home from organized team activities only to show up halfway through OTAs?

Let’s not read too much into this. It’s important to remember that OTAs are voluntary and no player — veteran or otherwise — is required to be in attendance. So what was the reason for his absence in the first place?

Why did Johnson show up to Steelers OTAs?

Trying to gauge his motive at this point is very difficult. It’s possible that Johnson decided that he needed to be working out with the rest of his team and that in itself prompted him to show up halfway through OTAs.

It’s also possible that the Steelers receiver never had any intentions of holding out this year, as doing so would have resulted in forfeiting money for the time he missed. This doesn’t apply to OTAs, but penalties could have started during mandatory minicamp and continued through training camp.

Recently, I expressed on Twitter that Johnson is not in the same situation as T.J. Watt was last year. Though both players desired a new contract that would pay them very well, Watt was already a two-time All-Pro, DPOY candidate and a superstar player, while Johnson has one great year of NFL production and his play has been up and down at times.

His party must have been aware of this, and perhaps that’s why he might not be taking the same approach. It’s also important to consider that Watt had already played his full rookie contract and was set to play on the fifth-year option at the time of his deal. Johnson is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

As you probably know, the Steelers rarely negotiate contract extensions with non-quarterbacks while they are currently under contract. I doubt Pittsburgh was about to make an exception for Diontae Johnson. Even Minkah Fitzpatrick — who wants to be paid like the top safety in the league — showed up at the start of Steelers OTAs.

I’m certainly not going to hold any contempt for Diontae Johnson and his decision to not show up on time for the start of voluntary OTAs, but I was curious to see if this would have resulted in a hold-in during training camp. With Johnson now at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex with his teammates, it seems less likely that this will happen.

Trending. Estimating the impact each Pittsburgh Steelers rookie will have in 2022. light

Johnson may not get his desired extension before the 2022 season, and I can understand why he would want to be paid now (in the event of an injury that could cost him money). However, I’m confident that he’s going to earn a very big contract next season either with the Steelers or elsewhere.