Steelers reportedly trade WR Diontae Johnson to Panthers

INGLEWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 22: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) warms up prior to an NFL regular season game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Rams on October 22, 2023, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Panthers are getting a productive wide receiver in Diontae Johnson. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Bryce Young has a new weapon, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers traded Pro Bowl wide receiver Diontae Johnson to the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. Going back to Pittsburgh will be cornerback Donte Jackson and the 178th pick on the 2024 NFL Draft, with the Panthers also receiving the 240th pick.

Barring an extension, the trade is a one-year rental of Johnson, who is on the final year of a two-year, $36.7 million extension.

Jackson was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the No. 63 cornerback out of 127 in the NFL last season and is in the last year of a three-year, $35.1 million contract. The Panthers were reported earlier this month to be looking for a way to alleviate his $15.7 million salary-cap hit for 2024. The trade will still leave them with $9.8 million in dead money.

The move continues a busy week for the Steelers, who struck a deal with soon-to-be free agent Russell Wilson on Sunday and landed free-agent linebacker Patrick Queen with a three-year, $41 million deal on Tuesday. The team has also dropped veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson and cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Pittsburgh is going through a minor overhaul amid a seven-year stretch without a playoff win. The team will enter next season with a quarterback battle between Wilson and former first-rounder Kenny Pickett, though it's somewhat odd to see a team in their position give up a player like Johnson for so little.

Of course, it's less of a surprise when you review how Johnson's final season in Pittsburgh went.

Diontae Johnson had a turbulent last year in Pittsburgh

It's hard not to argue Johnson wasn't productive during his Steelers tenure. He crossed 1,000 yards only once in five seasons, but he still averaged 872.6 yards per season for a team that has had inconsistent quarterback play at best over that stretch.

Last season wound up being a trying year for Johnson and, not coincidentally, the Steelers in general. His 2023 got off to a rough start when he had to miss four games with a hamstring injury. He eventually made his return with solid performances, but was at the center of the team's in-house troubles later in the season.

There was a report Johnson and star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick had a heated locker room confrontation in which they had to be separated in November. That was the same game for which Johnson later apologized for openly giving up on a play, not even bothering to make an effort as the Cincinnati Bengals returned a fumble only a few feet from him.

The Steelers' wide receivers room has been notorious for unnecessary drama, and it certainly felt like the competition between Johnson and George Pickens last year qualified, at least when Pickens was seen visibly unmoved by Johnson scoring his first touchdown of the season.

Now, Johnson has a chance to be the top receiver in Carolina. Adam Thielen was the team's leading receiver last season with 1,014 yards, but he is 33 years old. The 27-year-old Johnson gives Young a talented receiver for his sophomore year, though it remains unclear if the Panthers are headed in the right direction, especially after the underwhelming Brian Burns trade.

Meanwhile, Pickens is set to be top dog in Pittsburgh, with names like Calvin Austin III and Miles Boykin behind him.