Trading Diontae Johnson created more problems than answers for the Steelers

The Steelers managed to create more holes on their roster after trading Diontae Johnson.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers
Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers / Grant Halverson/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers made it clear that they needed to unload Diontae Johnson before his $3 million roster bonus kicked in on March 16th. There was speculation that Johnson was in the doghouse with the coaching staff after his lack of effort on the field became an issue.

Shortly after rumors swirled that the Steelers were fielding offers for their veteran receiver, Johnson was traded to the Carolina Panthers on the second day of the NFL's legal tampering period -- just one day before the official start of free agency.

Diontae Johnson Trade

The Steelers sent Diontae Johnson and a seventh-round pick to the Panthers for veteran cornerback Donte Jackson and Carolina's sixth-round pick (acquired by the Arizona Cardinals).

While Pittsburgh moves up 62 spots on Day 3 of the 2024 NFL Draft, this hardly seems like fair compensation for a quality starting receiver. The fact that the Steelers wanted to move on from Johnson before his roster bonus kicked in forced them to take any offer they could get.

Steelers have more roster holes than they did before the Diontae Johnson trade

Donte Jackson isn't a terrible football player, but he's been even less consistent at the cornerback position than Johnson has been at receiver for the Steelers. At 28, Jackson still has a few years left in the tank before his play drops off, but it's his contract that isn't ideal.

Jackson has a lofty cap number of $10.522 million for the 2024 season. This is more than he would have made if the Panthers had cut him he signed with a new team in free agency. This contract dump as part of the trade for Johnson means that the Steelers essentially break even and come away with very little cap savings.

But that's not the biggest issue.

With the decision to trade Johnson, the Steelers now have a massive hole at wide receiver opposite George Pickens. Calvin Austin III is the only other notable receiver under contract, and Pittsburgh will be forced to make a corresponding move to fix this hole.

Meanwhile, the presence of Donte Jackson hardly solves the issue at cornerback. The undersized boundary CB looks more like a slot cornerback, and Jackson is a baseline starter at best. The Steelers still need another outside CB as well as one who can man slot CB duties full-time.

That means that this trade just opened a new wormhole. Now the Steelers have glaring needs at WR, CB, OT, and C. They don't have enough money to fill all of these in free agency, and they don't have enough high draft capital to get starters at all of these positions in the NFL Draft.

The most concerning thing about this is -- depending on what Omar Khan does with his final moves in free agency -- the Pittsburgh Steelers may pigeonhole themselves into taking a certain position in the first few rounds of the draft. Let's pray that the talent lines up with their need this April.