Mark Madden: Training camp ‘hold-in’ accomplishes nothing for Steelers’ Diontae Johnson

Diontae Johnson lost his hold-in. He won’t acknowledge that. But he has.

The Steelers won’t give Johnson what he wants: A contract extension with an average annual value of $20 million or more. Negotiation won’t change that.

The Steelers don’t often give receivers a second contract. Hines Ward and Antonio Brown were exceptions. Johnson isn’t Ward or Brown.

Johnson isn’t TJ Watt, either. When Watt staged his hold-in during last year’s training camp, his extension was an inevitability. Johnson’s isn’t even likely.

Eleven receivers got deals with an AAV of $20 million or more this offseason. That’s stupid. It’s a disposable position. Such precedent doesn’t mean the Steelers have to be dumb, too. The Steelers have never had difficulty replacing wideouts.

GM Omar Khan says the Steelers want to retain Johnson for the long term. Sure they do. At their price. Johnson wants his price. Hey won’t get it.

If Johnson continues to hold-in, the Steelers must start fining him. The Steelers look weak. Coach Mike Tomlin looks weak. Steelers camp is where the hold-in was invented.

Johnson is under contract. He should fulfill his obligation to work.

But at this point, Johnson only hurts himself. He needs to be a full participant at camp.

The Steelers have two new quarterbacks. Mitch Trubisky will start Week 1. Kenny Pickett will eventually supplant Trubisky.

Johnson was the second most-targeted receiver in the NFL last season with 169. That means little to Trubisky and Pickett. Trubisky and Pickett are on the field at camp building rapport with other receivers. Johnson won’t jump right to the front of the line, especially if his hold-in continues much longer.

Johnson doesn’t care about how that affects the team. He should care about how that affects him.

George Pickens is the camp phenomenon. Fellow rookie receiver Calvin Austin III looks capable of staking out a role. That affects Johnson, too.

Nothing about Johnson’s hold-in is working in his favor. It’s hurting him.

Johnson won’t play for the Steelers next season. He needs to have a good year, rack up numbers and burnish his value for free agency.

His hold-in doesn’t help in the pursuit of any of that.

Johnson is doubtless jealous that San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel got a three-year extension worth $71.55 million. Or that Seattle’s DK Metcalf got $72 million over three years.

Johnson should be jealous that Samuel and Metcalf are better than him.

Washington receiver Terry McLaurin got $71 million over three years. Johnson is justified if he’s mad about that. Johnson is comparable, if not better.

But the Steelers aren’t obligated to make a mistake just because Washington did.

Johnson’s teammates aren’t pressing him to be a full participant at camp. That’s not how NFL players are wired now. Me first, like Ben Roethlisberger said. Or perhaps a different kind of we-first.

“All of us support Diontae and what he’s trying to do,” said defensive lineman Chris Wormley.


More from Mark Madden

At Steelers camp, there are issues more interesting than daily dissection of QB battle
Steelers didn’t draft Kenny Pickett to be quick fix
Steelers’ quarterback situation seems to be pointed in the right direction


It hurts the team, but so what? Get that money.

Except it really doesn’t hurt the Steelers that much.

In the big picture, Johnson is small potatoes. That’s why the Steelers won’t extend him. Johnson is easily replaced. Maybe not immediately. But the Steelers won’t win the Super Bowl this year regardless. They probably won’t even make the playoffs.

Wideout James Washington broke his foot at Dallas’ camp. (He used to play for the Steelers. He was easily replaced.) Trade Johnson to the Cowboys for a second-round pick. Settle for a third, even. Get this over with. Erase the precedent of the hold-in.

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