2020 Offseason Questions: Will Steelers Ultimately Pay Up For More Than One Of Their Current WRs?

Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.

The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.

How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will the Steelers ultimately give large contracts to at least two of the wide receivers currently on the roster—simultaneously?

There is a bit of a narrative that has built up over the years that says the Steelers are only willing to spend on one wide receiver at a time, choosing to let the other go. Obvious points of reference would be Hines Ward over Plaxico Burress in 2005, or Antonio Brown over Mike Wallace in 2012.

Of course, there are caveats in there. For starters, they offered Wallace a big contract—five years, $50 million, which at the time was a lot of money—before they turned around and gave Brown a premature extension. Remember, he would have only been a restricted free agent the following offseason. Who’s to say they wouldn’t have ultimately paid both?

Right now, though, the Steelers have four wide receivers of pedigree, though with varying degrees of tangible NFL success. JuJu Smith-Schuster was the 62nd-overall pick in 2017. James Washington was drafted 60th in 2018. Diontae Johnson followed last year at 66. Finally, Chase Claypool was taken 49tth overall, which is the highest they’ve taken a wide receiver since Santonio Holmes in 2006.

Smith-Schuster will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Will they pay him? And if so, does that damn the futures of Washington, Johnson, and possibly even Claypool? Does the success of Johnson last year and the prospect of Claypool dampen internal enthusiasm about signing Smith-Schuster long-term? Ultimately, will they pay up for more than one of these guys, with both of them being on the roster at the same time?

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