The Pittsburgh Steelers will likely leave Sunday afternoon to travel for their Monday night road game against the New York Giants and once they get in the air, odds are good that will be the end of all contract talks until the 2020 season comes to end. In summation, if you’re hoping that player such a wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will sign an extension before the regular season starts, you now have under 24 hours for such a deal to get done. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday, no extensions will be signed before the start of the regular season.
Steelers will not sign any more of their players to contract extensions before Monday night's season opener, per source.
— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) September 12, 2020
After Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward signed his new extension last weekend, Dulac reported that another extension might could happen before the start of the regular season. I expressed doubt in that report right from the start and it looks like I was right to. It made no sense from a cap or contract value perspective for the Steelers to sign another player besides Heyward to an extension unless an extreme bargain surfaced.
Many fans of the Steelers were hoping that Smith-Schuster would be a player the Steelers might consider signing to an extension this past week but as I’ve said all along, it makes zero sense for him to do so with him coming off of such an unproductive 2019 season. That bad 2019 season aside, Smith-Schuster’s current market value is still probably in the neighborhood of $16-$17 million per season and that was pretty much backed up on Saturday when Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp signed a three-year extension worth up to $48 million. Assuming those raw initial reported numbers are correct, that’s a $16 million new money average, which sounds about right for Kupp.
Regardless of what Kupp’s new money average comes in at, that should become the bottom floor market value for Smith-Schuster. Look at the stats below and you can see how similar Smith-Schuster and Kupp are. Both, by the way, have already missed games so far in their NFL careers due to injuries. Smith-Schuster was even saddled with having to play with two very inexperienced backup quarterbacks last season.
Here is stat comp for 2017 draft class receivers Cooper Kupp (has new deal) & JuJu Smith-Schuster (in line for new deal). pic.twitter.com/smpEGzRgeg
— Mike Sando (@SandoNFL) September 12, 2020
So, assuming Smith-Schuster doesn’t sign an extension in the next 48 hours, the likelihood that he’ll be a member of a different team in 2021 will increase drastically. Come Monday night’s kickoff, the Steelers using the franchise tag on Smith-Schuster ahead the 2021 league year starting in March is probably the only way the team’s former second-round draft pick out of USC doesn’t test free agency. If he is allowed to test free agency, he’ll likely find a number of suitors willing to pay him big money, assuming he rebounds in 2020 like most think he will.
Should Smith-Schuster have another disappointing season in 2020, it would obviously impact his free agent market value quite considerably. However, even if that’s what happens, he’ll still likely wind up signing with a team other than the Steelers in March, unless he’s willing to sign a very economical short-term deal with the team that drafted him.
So, what other current Steelers players were impacted heavily by Dulac’s Saturday report? That list is quite lengthy and not only does it include Smith-Schuster, but tackle Alejandro Villanueva, guard Matt Feiler, cornerback Mike Hilton, cornerback Cameron Sutton, and running back James Conner, just to name a few of the team’s higher profile players currently scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March of 2021.
As I wrote almost a full week ago, the Steelers are likely going to have a lot of roster turnover next offseason and it will be surprising to see them retain any of the players named in this post. 48 hours from now, that prediction of mine will take another big step forward to becoming correct.