LATROBE, Dad. (AP) — Diontae Johnson saw the broad receiver market explode during the off-season. The dollar amounts were so staggering that it was impossible for Johnson to ignore them when he entered contract negotiations with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“You see the numbers,” Johnson said. “But I tried not to look in everyone’s pockets.”
Johnson tried to return to his job. He returned to full-time on Thursday after agreeing to a new three-year contract worth more than $39 million. That’s certainly a lot of money, just not on par with some of the other mega deals its better-known brethren have signed in recent weeks.
“I made the right deal,” said Johnson, a first Pro Bowler in 2021 after posting career highs at receptions (107), yards (1,161) and touchdowns (eight).
The 26-year-old went into the final season of the rookie deal he signed after being hired in the third round of the 2019 draft. Johnson skipped part of the team’s voluntary offseason program and although he made it on time arrived at training camp, he did not participate in 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 exercises in an effort to protect his health.
Johnson said he took as many “mental reps” as possible and never considered sticking to it.
“I wanted to be around (my teammates),” said Johnson, adding that he didn’t want to show “that kind of (negative) energy” with the club’s return to training camp at Saint Vincent College after a two-year absence. skip because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson would have worn his “hold in” until the season opener — as All-Pro teammate TJ Watt did last summer — but now he doesn’t have to after agreeing a deal that offers both himself and the Steelers a little flexibility.
It won’t keep Pittsburgh in a long-term situation if Johnson relapses and gives Johnson a chance to make real money during his prime if he knocks the deal out, though Johnson stressed that his goal is to stay with the Steelers for the rest of his career.
“I felt it in my stomach, it was the right move for me,” he said.
Johnson admitted he got a little bored while standing sideways during the more physical portion of the exercises. That ended on Thursday, and he wasted little time showing that he was ready to work with new quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Trubisky, who competes with Mason Rudolph and rookie Kenny Pickett to replace retired Ben Roethlisberger, found Johnson deep on Johnson’s first snap in 11 on 11 after Johnson slipped past cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
“I just showed what I can do,” Johnson said. “That’s what I do every day.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who had grown tired of answering daily questions about Johnson’s status, praised Johnson for “staying connected” with his teammates as negotiations unfolded.
“His train left the station today,” Tomlin said. “I imagine there won’t be much of a transition in terms of him getting up to speed.”
Johnson finds himself the most established wide receiver on the roster after JuJu Smith-Schuster left for Kansas City in free agency. Johnson is happy to take on a lead role in a group that includes Chase Claypool and rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III.
“Whatever questions they have or need help with a particular route, I will always be there for them,” he said. “Obviously I will continue to lead by example. Hopefully that feeds into the rest of the group, so I’m ready to get started.”
COMMENTS: The Steelers took safety Minkah Fitzpatrick off the list of non-football injuries on Thursday. Fitzpatrick was recovering from a wrist problem sustained in a bicycle accident. … DB Cam Sutton left practice with what Tomlin called a lower body injury. … CB Levi Wallace sat out due to illness.
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