Steelers send Diontae Johnson to Panthers in surprising trade: reports


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The Pittsburgh Steelers are sending away veteran wide receiver Diontae Johnson to the Carolina Panthers, ESPN reported Tuesday. 

The Steelers are sending Johnson and a seventh-round pick to the Panthers in exchange for defensive back Donte Jackson and a sixth-round pick.

The Panthers are looking to build around quarterback Bryce Young, their No. 1 overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, and getting him another wide receiver this offseason was paramount after only Adam Thielen could be relied upon last year. 

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Diontae Johnson vs Packers

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) looks on during the regular season NFL football game between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers on November 12, 2023 at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA. (Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was a season of lows all around for Carolina, who finished with the NFL’s worst record at 2-15. Among those lows was the worst pass attack in the league, as the Panthers averaged 161.2 yards through the air per game. 

Free agents usually are not keen to signing with teams that need as much help as the Panthers do, so new GM Dan Morgan had to get creative. And he does so with a talent that has had an interesting time in Pittsburgh. 

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Johnson has spent his first five NFL seasons with the Steelers, where he quickly became a reliable target for the now-retired Ben Roethlisberger, especially in 2021 when he caught 107 of his 169 targets for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. He earned his one and only Pro Bowl that year. 

But since Roethlisberger left, the Steelers’ offense has been run dependent, with the team trying to find a solution at quarterback, with Kenny Pickett being drafted in the first round in 2022. He, Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph never stood out, and in turn, Johnson’s numbers have dipped. 

The 2023 season saw Johnson’s worst production since his rookie year, tallying 717 yards and five touchdowns over 13 games (11 starts). While he did have five touchdowns in the regular season after not scoring once in 2022, Johnson was called out for lack-of-effort plays. There was also a report that he had an altercation with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick last season. 

Diontae Johnson reacts to play

Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after a first down in the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Acrisure Stadium on November 02, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

And there were post-game comments Johnson made following some inexcusable actions against the Cincinnati Bengals in which Johnson seemed not to care about a fumble from his teammate Jaylen Warren on a run play. 

“Diontae can’t let the emotions of the previous down affect his next down,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said at the time.

Johnson’s production may have seen an uptick with Russell Wilson joining the Steelers next season on a veteran-minimum contract, but he’ll instead try to build a rapport with Young.

Wilson, on the other hand, will focus on the likes of George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, Calvin Austin and whoever else the front office may add to the receiving mix this season.  

The Panthers still have Thielen in place for next year as well as Terrance Marshall Jr. and 2023 NFL Draft pick Jonathan Mingo.   

Diontae Johnson yells

Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a play during the first half of the game against the Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium on January 08, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

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As for Jackson, the cornerback Carolina is sending to Pittsburgh, he has played all six of his NFL seasons with the Panthers, starting 76 of his 80 games sicne 2018. He’s made 303 combined tackles (15 for loss), 14 interceptions and 46 passes defended over that span. 

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