Grading the Diontae Johnson-Donte Jackson trade: A win-win for Steelers, Panthers?

The Pittsburgh Steelers traded wide receiver Diontae Johnson and a seventh-round NFL Draft pick (No. 240) to the Carolina Panthers for cornerback Donte Jackson and a sixth-rounder (No. 178).

Why they made the move

Johnson and the Steelers were ready for a split after a rocky fifth season together, during which he tallied a career-low 51 receptions, and his 717 receiving yards were the fewest since his rookie season. His stats had fallen off in two consecutive seasons after a career year in 2021. Johnson’s effort came under scrutiny at times in 2023.

His $3 million roster bonus is due Friday, so the timing of the move was significant. The Steelers saved $10 million in cap space by moving Johnson, but Jackson will take up a chunk of that.

The Panthers couldn’t keep Jackson on the books with a $15.7 million cap hit, so their move was also financially motivated.

The Steelers have been preparing for a reset at receiver, and they also needed a boost at cornerback after cutting Patrick Peterson this month. Jackson is a solid, reliable veteran who should mesh well in Pittsburgh.

Jackson, 28, has started 76 of 80 career games, so he’ll bring plenty of experience to the Steelers’ defense. He also played 16 games last season, matching his career high, which was important coming off an Achilles injury in 2022.

The Panthers, as noted following the Brian Burns trade, have made a concerted effort to give quarterback Bryce Young as much help as possible. Johnson could be an important part of that venture if he performs anywhere close to his 2021 form. He’s in a contract year, so he should be motivated.



NFL free agency 2024 best available players, led by Calvin Ridley, Tyron Smith

Panthers trade grade: B

This would be an automatic A if it were a sure thing Johnson would be at his best. If he shows up like a top receiver, he’ll help Young’s development and become a dangerous asset for coach Dave Canales’ offense.

In a way, Johnson’s frustrations with the Steelers offense were understandable over the past season. They fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada and got inconsistent play out of quarterback Kenny Pickett and his backups.

But the Panthers are coming off a league-worst 2-15 record, and there’s still an element of the unknown in Canales’ first season with Young. How will Johnson handle it if they get off to a bumpy start?

Still, it’s worth the gamble. They had to move Jackson’s contract and got a dangerous receiver in return, and they’re investing their time and energy into developing Young, which should be the organization’s top goal.



Grading the Brian Burns trade: Did the Giants fleece the Panthers?

Steelers trade grade: B-

The Steelers filled a need on a defense that is almost always among the better units in the league.

And because the Steelers have an amazing track record of replenishing receivers through the draft, they deserve the benefit of the doubt that they’ll restock the position next month.

After all, their starting quarterback will either be Russell Wilson or Pickett. If it’s Wilson, all parties will be invested in resurrecting his game and maybe setting up the veteran to finish his career in Pittsburgh. If it’s Pickett, they’ll want to give the young quarterback some help. Put another way, they won’t just wing it at receiver this offseason.

(Photos of Donte Jackson and Diontae Johnson: Jared C. Tilton and Harry How / Getty Images)

First appeared on

Leave a Comment