Latrobe, Pa. (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers say they want to hold on to Deontay Johnson. The fourth-year wide receiver says he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.
Where things get tricky is how much it costs to do it.
Johnson is following in the footsteps of linebacker TJ Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick last summer. “holding” A new phenomenon is a player arriving at training camp, participating in meetings and practices, and then going out and doing his own thing to protect his health.
The strategy worked for Watt, who signed a massive contract on the eve of the 2021 season. It worked for Fitzpatrick, who did the same in June. Johnson is banking it will work for him, though the team is no closer to reaching a deal than the day Johnson arrived a week after returning to the home of traditional camp at St. Vincent’s College.
General manager Omar Khan said Tuesday that the team and Johnson’s representatives have been in contact, but declined to publicly discuss the nature of the talks. Khan reiterated the front office’s stance the entire offseason: The 26-year-old remains part of the team’s future.
“Let’s say we want Deontay.” said Khan, who took over for retiring general manager Kevin Colbert in May. “We’re excited to have him as a part of this team. We think he’ll be a Steeler for a long time.
Johnson says he wants to, too, but his 5-foot-10, 183-pound frame seems intent on making sure the prospect is monetized before taking the field for team drills like 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 work.
“Of course I want to be there.” Johnson said last week. “But, you know, some situations (do it) as a part of the business.”
Johnson spent part of Tuesday working out a bit with Fitzpatrick — who is rehabbing a wrist injury — following the wide receiver group as he went from station to station to stay engaged and talk to former Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. They are involved on many levels. That doesn’t count for much this time of year for a team trying to find a new quarterback following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger in January.
Coach Mike Tomlin has made a point to downplay Johnson’s status, saying Tuesday that his focus once again is on the players practicing. Khan declined to get specific when asked if the team was imposing any kind of penalty on Johnson.
“Obviously there are options out there.” Khan said. “We’re focused on wanting Deontay here, so … we’ll keep those discussions, as you can imagine, internally.”
Johnson’s teammates are firmly in tune with his approach, though his decision is more of a gamble than Watt and Fitzpatrick’s.
There was no question what the Steelers would do last year to keep Watt, who rewarded their investment by winning the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2021 with 22 1/2 sacks. It’s been the same for Fitzpatrick, who has been a difference-maker since the day he was acquired in a September 2019 trade with Miami.
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox