Diontae Johnson is having the worst season of his professional career. Should the Pittsburgh Steelers consider trading him during the 2023 offseason?
Early in the 2022 offseason, there was an ongoing debate among Pittsburgh Steelers fans about whether or not the team should fork up good money to keep Diontae Johnson around. Based on his production with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm in his previous two seasons, we knew he was certain to receive a new money average that makes him a top-20 highest-paid receiver in the game.
After an essential hold-in early in training camp, the Steelers and Johnson eventually came to terms on a two-year, $36.71 million contract extension, per Over the Cap. His per-year value makes him the 17th-highest-paid receiver in the NFL as of today.
Sadly, Johnson hasn’t come close to earning his lofty payday. His 2022 season has been an utter disappointment as his efficiency has plummeted to the lowest point of his four-year career. It has gotten so bad, in fact, that throwing to Johnson almost seems like a wasted play.
According to ESPN stats, Johnson is averaging a career-low in yards per reception, yards per target broken tackles, and passer rating targeted. His yards after the catch per reception have also been more than cut in half from his career average.
All of this has caused fans to rightfully question his future in Pittsburgh. Could the Steelers look to trade him early in the 2023 offseason?
Could Steelers trade Diontae Johnson in 2023?
This is a thought that actually crossed my mind just before the 2022 NFL trade deadline. We could tell that the Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t going to be true competitors this year, and there were some desperate receiver-needy teams willing to overpay before the deadline.
Ultimately, Omar Khan and Andy Weidl pulled off a heist when they shipped Chase Claypool to the Bears for what will prove to be a high second-round pick. At the time, I’m sure the team never really considered trading Johnson, but as the season marches on, this is a topic that really should be addressed.
Johnson has fallen out of favor in Pittsburgh. Though he still technically leads the team in targets this year, he’s no longer that trustworthy go-to option the quarterback will look for. In addition, it’s impossible to justify paying him the money he’s due based on his pedestrian performance this year.
What makes this tricky is that the Steelers already have an apparent lack of depth at the wide receiver position. Fourth-round rookie WR Calvin Austin has been injured all season and Claypool is no longer here. This means that there’s already a massive drop-off in talent after rookie George Pickens and Diontae.
When next year rolls around, I fully expect the Steelers to target a wide receiver with one of their top three picks in the 2023 NFL Draft — whether Johnson is on the team or not. If they do decide that this isn’t working out, we have seen that desperate teams may be willing to overpay for him.
Because Pittsburgh has paid the guaranteed money, a trade is very easy to manage for a team that would take on his salary, as they would only owe him $8 million next season and $7 million in 2024. Even with his struggles, there’s a team out there that would be willing to surrender a day-two pick for his services.
If the Steelers were to decide to trade him during the 2023 offseason, they could use the pick acquired to double up on the wide receiver position. Pittsburgh has a great track record when it comes to taking wide receivers in the NFL Draft, and for the sake of appeasing George Pickens and in hopes of a healthier distribution of targets, this is something they could consider.
I had pretty high hopes for Diontae Johnson during the 2021 season, but he has clearly regressed in year four and isn’t worth the contract that he recently received. With how inefficient he has been, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pittsburgh Steelers front office entertained trade offers for him next offseason.