I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself, but every once in a while in recent weeks I have taken a gander at The Athletic to see what Ed Bouchette has been saying lately. Not necessarily for information about the team, but just to see what his take is on various things, which I often disagree with.
During a mailbox column last week, he doubled down on his previous pessimistic assertion that the Pittsburgh Steelers will not sign JuJu Smith-Schuster to a long-term contract, suggesting that the only way it happens would be if it were to be an extension this year and that Smith-Schuster just accepts whatever they give him.
While I’m not opposed to his theory that Smith-Schuster might be playing his last season in Pittsburgh, the reason he employs is faulty. He writes that the Steelers have only given two long-term contract extensions to wide receivers this past century—or rather, extensions to two players—those being to Hines Ward and to Antonio Brown.
To whom did they not give extensions? There was Plaxico Burress, and Antwaan Randle El. There was Mike Wallace. There was Emmanuel Sanders. There was Santonio Holmes. All of these are significant names, high draft picks who put up numbers, to some degree, with the team.
But the Steelers always had a wide receiver paid. First, it came down to Burress or Ward. They gave the contract extension to Ward, and Burress left in free agency. Randle El left in free agency, too. But during the ensuing years, Ward was their money guy.
And he was still on the roster through the 2011 season. In 2012, they tried to sign Wallace to a five-year, $50 million contract, which was big money then. He wouldn’t budge, so instead, they signed Brown to a five-year contract extension. And then they gave him a $68 million, four-year extension several years later.
Santonio Holmes was a first-round pick and a great talent, but he played his way out of the team because of his off-field behavior, and the New York Jets were not happy with his off-field behavior, either. While he has seemingly changed since he retired, there was a reason the team wasn’t willing to commit money to him.
Right now, the Steelers aren’t paying much to their wide receiver position, with all of their players there under rookie contracts or even lesser deals. So if anything, the team’s history at the position suggests that they will be paying somebody soon.
That doesn’t guaranteed that it is Smith-Schuster just because he is the next one up. I don’t think it will be James Washington. It could be Diontae Johnson two years from now, or Chase Claypool three years from now.
And now that we are in this passing era, it’s increasingly likely that they’re willing to commit big money to two receivers, rather than just one. I’m not going so far as to predict that Smith-Schuster will be here for the long term, but it won’t be because of an organizational reluctance to pay the position