Diontae Johnson signing with Steelers not a ‘given’ as WR lacks leverage compared to TJ Watt

Diontae Johnson’s “hold-in” with the Steelers does not come with the same leverage as TJ Watt’s did in 2021. He will need to revisit negotiation in 2023.

Diontae Johnson was a limited participant at Steelers practice yesterday, and for a reason that fans are all too familiar with. Johnson and the Steelers are at a stand-still in regards to a potential contract extension, and now the Steelers’ leading receiver from last season is taking a familiar “hold-in” approach to the early days of training camp. His situation, however, is drastically different from TJ Watt’s, who did the same thing last offseason.

None of what is to come ahead here is to slight Diontae Johnson. He is coming off of a Pro Bowl season with over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. He is due to ink his second contract next offseason, and while he is deserving of a a nice raise over his rookie deal that reflects his position in the market, he is in no position to be pressuring the Steelers. Although the historic nature of the 2022 offseason was played to the tune of wideouts signing behemoth contracts across the league, somebody — an organization — has to take a stand against unfounded demands. Pittsburgh’s situation with Diontae Johnson is primed to slow those demands in the nation’s eye.

Diontae Johnson is by no means in the same position as TJ Watt, and the Steelers have every right to make him participate in training camp.

Often times, the lines between good and great players in the free agency market are blurred by a player being grossly overpaid. The difference that eternally remains between those players heading into free agency, however, is the stat sheet. Leverage, in the form of a hold-out — or in this case, a “hold-in” — is reserved for the great players exclusively.

In the instance of TJ Watt, a player whose fifth-year option was exercised by the team, the greatness was unavoidably obvious and demanded financial acknowledgment. Watt played at a discount relative to his production over his first five years. Four consecutive Pro Bowls, three consecutive first-team All-Pro selections, a Defensive Player of the Year, and 72 sacks came on his rookie contract. That player gets to flex his position ahead of a contract year. Diontae Johnson simply has to finish paying his dues.

The Steelers don’t owe Johnson anything until 2023, and they will demand that he participate in practice and fulfill his contract. If he declines to do so, it will hurt him far more than it will hurt the team.

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