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Notebook: Mike Tomlin thinks Diontae Johnson will be an immediate fit for Panthers

Mike Tomlin, Diontae Johnson

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Steelers needed help at corner as much as the Panthers needed a wide receiver.

So the pairing of those needs, and a couple of young veterans with expiring contracts made it a match, according to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Asked about the trade that sent wide receiver Diontae Johnson to the Panthers in exchange for cornerback Donte Jackson, Tomlin said it was as simple as finding a fit, rather than trying to change the personality of the locker room.

"No, I just think during this time of year when you're roster building, you communicate with people and you know, you talk about things that you need, and you hear things that other people need, and sometimes that's the driving factor in terms of what produces deals," Tomlin said Monday morning at the league's annual spring meeting. "And I think that was the case in that deal."

Johnson and Jackson each had a year left on their contracts, making this a prove-it year for both players, but the needs matched up. The Steelers sent a seventh-round pick to Carolina in the deal, while the Panthers sent a sixth-rounder (originally acquired from Arizona) along with Jackson.

There were occasional questions about Johnson's effort level in Pittsburgh, but Tomlin said he thinks his former receiver will help the Panthers with his ability to get open.

"You're getting an awesome route runner, man," Tomlin said. "A guy that can create separation at the top of routes. A guy that's tough to stay with, he can win in non-vertical route running and vertical route running. So you get a guy with a complete skill set in that regard, and I just think he's going to be a big asset to them. . . .

"He wants the football, but I think they all do."

Robert Hunt

— Make no mistake, Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel isn't looking forward to replacing right guard Robert Hunt. But he congratulated his former blocker on the five-year, $100 million deal Hunt got early in free agency as the Panthers worked quickly to fortify their line.

"He's been a big part of what we've been doing on the offensive line since he got here in 2020," McDaniel said. He's a guy who really has grown and become a professional football player from the day we walked in the door. I think he's a tremendous asset for the Panthers and what they're trying to do. I'm happy that he was able to really hit that milestone of that contract for him and his career.

"That's something that, again, if we were priced out because guys have really grown within the organization, that's a good thing for the organization. It's a good thing for Robert."

The Dolphins had a couple of high-end defections this offseason (including defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who left for a four-year, $110 million deal with the Raiders), and McDaniel said it's a constant balance for teams as they consider which players to retain and which to allow to explore the markets.

"There's a finite salary cap, you know, and sometimes we have to, we can't be the kid spending the money," McDaniel said. "We have to be the parents that have to look at our budget and make sure we can pay the water bill."

Zac Taylor, Joe Burrow

— Panthers head coach Dave Canales is entering his first head coaching job, and those who have come from similar backgrounds know that there's little in the way of preparing for the transition from play-caller to being in charge of an entire team.

But Bengals coach Zac Taylor said one of the key factors is having coaches who speak your language from Day 1.

"You have to have people that you trust because it's a lot of work, a lot of things that you're doing for the first time," Taylor said. "And I know Dave's brought some guys from Tampa (and Seattle), so I assume that they put the emphasis there. He's got the right mindset just from watching him from afar, and he called plays last year, which is big. So he can just jump right into it. So I'm pulling for Dave."

Like Canales with Bryce Young, Taylor has a former No. 1 overall pick at quarterback in Joe Burrow. Taylor said that a young coach has to be mindful of the way they balance coaching the entire roster with the emphasis that gets placed on the coach-quarterback dynamic.

"It's relationships," Taylor said. "I think that's what gets you through because there's a lot of guys you don't get a chance, I mean, when there's essentially 69 guys on the roster. It can be challenging to try to connect and so you just be genuine who you are and connect with them one by one. And over time you get a chance to build relationships with all those guys, and at different points in your career."

The Carolina Panthers were busy in free agency this week, signing multiple players on both sides of the ball. The first wave arrived on Thursday and Friday, getting a tour of Bank of America Stadium, meeting coaches, teammates and taking in their new home.

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