The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Neither JuJu Smith-Schuster nor James Conner merit a contract extension in 2020.
Explanation: In 2018, both JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner were Pro Bowlers, second-year players emerging as budding stars. Both averaged about 1500 yards from scrimmage, Conner with 13 touchdown. Smith-Schuster’s season was one of the best in team history by a wide receiver not named Antonio Brown. Largely due to injuries, however, they came well short of their previous numbers.
There was absolutely nothing about the 2019 seasons of either player that indicates that they merit receiving a lucrative contract extension this offseason. Both of them struggled to perform even when they were on the field at times, irrespective of their injury histories.
But especially in Conner’s case, you can’t disregard the injury history. The greatest ability at the running back position in and will always be availability, and he hasn’t provided great comfort that he is the sort of player who can be trusted to field 300 touches a season while sustaining a high level of play, in addition to health.
As for Smith-Schuster, it’s really hard to say who he is in a post-Brown offense, considering the Ben Roethlisberger injury and then his own injury late in the year that essentially rendered him irrelevant in the final seven or so games. At best, he’s in a wait-and-see mode.
Sure, Smith-Schuster may not have transitioned to the number one receiver role as smoothly as the team would’ve liked, but we all know the mitigating circumstances. And none of Conner’s injuries have been of a chronic nature.
The reality is that their markets may never be lower than they are right now. They are still good and talented players who will inevitably have better years next year than that did this time around, because we’ve seen them do it in the past.
We’ve also seen that the offense isn’t very good without them. So it only makes sense to buy low while the opportunity is there—assuming they don’t choose to ‘bet on themselves’ and play out their rookie contracts instead.