Talks with Johnson are ongoing

LATROBE, Pa. – The offseason officially ended on July 26 when the Steelers reported to Saint Vincent College for the start of training camp. But the work of the offseason seems to remain ongoing.

During the offseason, the Steelers re-signed six of their own unrestricted free agents – Montravius Adams, Miles Killebrew, Arthur Maulet, Chuks Okorafor, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Terrell Edmunds – and they added nine veteran players from outside the organization – Mitch Trubisky, Levi Wallace, Mason Cole, James Daniels, Gunner Olszewski, Myles Jack, Damontae Kazee, Genard Avery, and Trent Scott.

The team also signed Minkah Fitzpatrick to a contract that made him the NFL's highest-paid safety, and on Tuesday the Steelers announced Chris Boswell signed a five-year contract that reportedly ties him with Justin Tucker as the NFL's highest-paid kicker.

There's still more business to be done, because Diontae Johnson, entering the final season of the contract he signed as a rookie, is looking for a contract extension. In 2021, Johnson's third NFL season, he led the Steelers in catches with 107, in receiving yards with 1,161, and in receiving touchdowns with 8.

As T.J. Watt did last summer, and Fitzpatrick did during the 2022 offseason program, Johnson is staging a hold-in, where he reports and takes part in everything except the team portions of the on-field workouts. Naturally, Johnson's situation was a hot topic when General Manager Omar Khan met with the media on Tuesday.

"As you know, we extended Chris Boswell (today)," said Khan from the Rogers Center on the Saint Vincent College campus. "We're excited to get that done. He's been an important part of this team for a few years now. We're excited it's going to continue for another 5 years.

As soon as Khan opened it up for questions, the topic shifted to Johnson's situation.

"Conversations we have with Diontae and his representatives are going to stay between us," said Khan, echoing a long-time Steelers philosophy about not commenting specifically about negotiations. "We won't discuss them publicly, but we've been in conversations."

And Khan made it clear that the money given to Watt and Fitzpatrick and Boswell and all of the outside free agents really has no bearing on the negotiations with Johnson. "Every one of those situations is different. A lot of factors go into it. I don't really want to discuss specifics of any one of those deals. A lot of factors go into each one of them."

Those ongoing conversations with Johnson and the factors with which the Steelers are dealing cannot have been made any simpler by the recent explosion of contracts given to wide receivers league wide. Just as a small sampling, Tyreek Hill signed a $120 million contract, Davante Adams got $141.25 million, DeAndre Hopkins got a $54.5 million extension, A.J. Brown got $100 million, Deebo Samuel got $73.5 million, and the most recent was DK Metcalf getting $72 million.

"I think (the explosion in wide receiver contracts) is a function of the times and the system that we're in," said Khan. "It's just part of the process. Positionally, regardless of the position, I assume those things are going to continue to grow. As the CBA grows, the contracts will grow."

Another sign of the times is the hold-in. Johnson reported with the rest of his teammates on July 26, and while he has been on the field with them every day, he has not participated in any team drills, which included Monday's first session in full pads. And this during a camp/preseason process where the Steelers are deciding on a new quarterback for the first time since a rookie named Ben Roethlisberger took over in 2004.

"Obviously you want everyone out practicing," said Khan. "We've taken the approach that we're using it as an opportunity to look at the other guys who are practicing, especially the young guys who are getting some good work. I can't speak for Coach (Mike) Tomlin. Obviously, like I mentioned, you wish you had everybody out there practicing. Sometimes it's for different reasons. Sometimes (guys aren't practicing) because of injuries."

Among the other topics Khan addressed:

• On whether the team knew it might take Larry Ogunjobi time to be ready to practice because of his foot injury:
"I'll be honest. We're just trying to be smart with the situation. Larry O is ready to go. We're just trying to be smart. We understood where he was and we wouldn't have signed him if we weren't confident that he was going to be ready to go."

• On the possibility of a future role for Kevin Colbert:
"Kevin, I think that's still fluid. I had him up here it was a couple days ago to speak to the scouting staff about things he's done in the past, how we did in the past. I think we're still working through that. Art (Rooney II) and Kevin have been talking. Kevin has been a great resource for us so far. He's a phone call away. We text and talk all the time."

• The Steelers' current 90-man roster:
"Overall I feel really good about the 90-man roster that we have. If there's an opportunity to upgrade a position, somebody comes available through the waiver wire, someone calls about a player, they're shopping, obviously you're going to look at it. Injuries come into play with those conversations. But overall I feel really good about our roster."

• On returning to Saint Vincent College for camp after a two-year absence because of the pandemic:
"I wanted to start off by first saying how excited we are to be back here in Latrobe, at Saint Vincent College. It's been an awesome week so far. The people have been great, not only here on campus but in the community. It's been great to be back. With respect to the fans, I mean, what can I say? The support we've gotten here so far from the fans coming in, it's been just tremendous. I've met people from all over the country, actually all over the world. I met someone from Mexico yesterday who had traveled here for camp. It's just been amazing. That does a lot for all of us, including the team."