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Evaluating the Diontae Johnson-Donte Jackson trade: A win-win for the Steelers and Panthers?

THE Pittsburgh Steelers traded wide receiver Diontae Johnson and a seventh round NFL Draft pickaxe (n° 240) Carolina Panthers for the cornerback Don Jackson and a sixth round (No. 178).

Why they took the step

Johnson and the Steelers were ready for a split after a Rocky fifth season set, in which he tallied a career-low 51 receptions, and his 717 receiving yards were the fewest since his rookie season. His stats had dropped in two straight seasons after a career year in 2021. Johnson's efforts has at times come under scrutiny in 2023.

His $3 million bonus is due Friday, so the timing of this decision was important. The Steelers saved $10 million in cap space by moving Johnson, but Jackson will absorb some of that.

The Panthers couldn't keep Jackson on the books with a $15.7 million cap hit, so their decision was also financially driven.

The Steelers were 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 fit in well in Pittsburgh.

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

The Panthers, as noted following the Brian Burns trademade a concerted effort to give the quarterback Bryce Young as much help as possible. Johnson could be an important part of this company if he approaches his 2021 form. He's in a contract year, so he should be motivated.

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Panthers trade grade: B

It would be an automatic A if it was certain Johnson would be at his best. If he emerges as a top receiver, he will help Young's development and become a dangerous addition to coach Dave Canales' offense.

In some ways, Johnson's frustrations with the Steelers' offense were understandable this past season. They fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada and I had inconsistent play from the quarterback Kenny Pickett and its 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 this if they get off to a bad start?

However, the gamble is worth it. They had to move Jackson's contract and got a dangerous receiver in return, and they are investing their time and energy into developing Young, which should be the organization's main focus.

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Steelers trade grade: B-

The Steelers have filled a need with a defense that is almost always one of the best units in the league.

And because the Steelers have an incredible history of restocking receivers throughout the draft, they deserve the benefit of the doubt: They will restock the position next month.

After all, their starting quarterback will either Russell Wilson or Pickett. If it's Wilson, all parties will be invested in resurrecting his game and perhaps allowing the veteran to finish his career in Pittsburgh. If it's Pickett, they'll want to help the young quarterback. In other words, they won't just go after the receiver this offseason.

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

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