The Pittsburgh Steelers will likely sign a few players to contract extension between now and the start pf the 2019 regular season and I addressed the priority of those five potential candidates in a Saturday post. While the 2020 offseason is obviously still a long way off, this dead period before the team reports to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe for the start of their 2019 training camp provides us a great opportunity to look at a few players who could sign contract extensions in less than a year from now.
DL Cameron Heyward – By this same next year, there’s a good chance that Heyward will have already signed a contract extension as 2020 is currently set to be the final year of the five-year deal he signed with the Steelers on July 21, 2015. Ahead of that potentially happening, however, we could the Steelers restructure Heyward’s contract once the team reports to Latrobe for the start of this year’s training camp as he’s a perfect candidate for such a transaction as I posted about not too long ago. Doing a full restructure of what Heyward currently has remaining on his current contract would result in the former first-round draft pick’s current 2020 cap charge of $13.25125 million increasing to a much loftier $17.16125 million. Assuming that full restructure does indeed take place later this summer February or early March figures to be the perfect time to sign Heyward to another long extension and that transaction would in turn could result in his potential $17.16125 salary cap charge in 2020 dropping quite a bit. Recently, the New Orleans Saints signed defensive lineman Cameron Jordan to a three year contract extension and that deal resulted in him now having a new money average of $17,533,333. Because of that, and when combined with the fact that Heyward figures to have another All-Pro-like season in 2019, the Steelers defensive captain could be in line for an extension that results in him having a new money average of around $20 million, or slightly greater.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster – Due to current CBA rules, Smith-Schuster cannot sign a contract extension until after the 2019 season is over. That rule noted, and with 2020 currently set to be the final year of Smith-Schuster’s rookie contract, the Steelers might decide to sign their former second-round draft pick out of USC to a very lucrative and long extension prior to the start of the new league year in March. Curretly, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. is the higest-paid player in the NFL at his position with a new money average of $18 million and former Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, now with the Oakland Raiders, is right behind him on the list with a new money average of $16,708,333. Assuming Smith-Schuster has another great season in 2019, he could command a new money average of at least $16 million next offseason. The Steelers could obviously wait well into next summer before signing Smith-Schuster to a long-term extension but it might make sense to get him inked prior to the start of the new league year in March as well.
RB James Conner – With Conner also still on his rookie contract, the same CBA rules apply to him that apply to Smith-Schuster, not that the team was going to sign either player to an extension two years out anyways. After the 2019 season is over, however, the Steelers will probably want to sign Conner to a contract extsion before the start of the 2020 season. Would the Steelers want to get a deal done with Conner prior to the start of the new league year in March, however? I’m not so sure that will be the case but he figures to get a new deal before the start of the 2020 regular season just the same.
T Alejandro Villanueva – the Steelers staring left tackle will be yet another player likely in line for a new contract sometime after the 2019 season is over with as 2020 is currently scheduled to be his final year. Villanueva, who will turn 31 in September, might want to play into his mid 30s and especially if he has another solid season in 2019 and remains fully healthy. The Steelers got Villanueva at a bargain rate on his last contract, however, so the next one he signs figures to result in him being one of the top 10 highest paid left tackles in the NFL.
Summary: Of the listed four players, Heyward is probably the best candidate to get a new deal done between the end of the 2019 regular season and the start of the 2020 NFL league year in March. That said, all four players figure to have new contracts by the time next summer ends.