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Diontae Johnson came to training camp with a strategy as he seeks a new deal.
Instead of a holdout, which would subject him to fines, Johnson reported with the veterans, but he didn’t fully participate in Wednesday’s practice. The 26-year-old receiver shed some light on his approach, via Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“I paid attention to Minkah’s situation and T.J.,” Johnson said. “They handled their situation how they handled it, I’m going to handle mine how I handle mine, and that’s how I’m going to go about it.”
Batko noted that T.J. Watt only participated in individual drills before the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him to a four-year, $112 million extension last offseason. In June, Minkah Fitzpatrick joined the team for mandatory minicamp, but he didn’t participate in team drills. The club signed him to a four-year, $73 million extension.
While the “hold-in plan” worked for Watt and Fitzpatrick, Johnson isn’t the same caliber player as his All-Pro teammates who rank among the top players at their respective positions.
Johnson saw the wide receiver market explode this offseason as Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs, Terry McLaurin and Mike Williams all sign new deals worth at least $20 million annually. Only due $3.1 million for the 2022 term, he’s underpaid while coming off a Pro Bowl campaign with 107 catches for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns.
However, Johnson doesn’t have much leverage with just one standout season on a team that has a deep wide receiver group.
In the 2022 draft, the Steelers selected George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. Third-year wideout Chase Claypool has racked up 121 receptions for 1,733 yards and 11 touchdowns. The team also signed Anthony Miller, who has a 52-catch season on his resume.
While Johnson is the best wideout on the Steelers roster, his absence wouldn’t cripple the aerial attack with the talent at the position and pass-catching tight end Pat Freiermuth in place.
On the flip side, Johnson’s decision to not participate in team drills could hurt him as the team prepares a new starting quarterback for the post-Ben Roethlisberger era. On Wednesday, Mitch Trubisky took first-team reps over Mason Rudolph, rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett and rookie seventh-rounder Chris Oladokun.
Johnson may want to rethink his strategy before it backfires on him.
Player contracts and team salary cap space are provided by Over the Cap.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.