Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has been in the news quite a bit lately and mainly because of his pregame TikTok dances on opponent’s logos. As of Wednesday, however, it sounds like Smith-Schuster’s midfield logo dancing days are now over with. With the Steelers now down to just two regular season and at least one playoff game remaining in the current season, several are now beginning to speculate that Smith-Schuster’s days in Pittsburgh might be over with by the middle of March.
After announcing during his Wednesday media session that he his done dancing on midfield logos for the rest of the season, Smith-Schuster posted on his Instagram account about his wishes to remain in Pittsburgh past this season. His message, while simple, could be open to different interpretations when it comes to him getting his wish related to his NFL future past the 2020 season.
“No, cap, I wouldn’t mind stay here another 4 years,” Smith Schuster included on his Wednesday Instagram image.
— Steelers Depot 🎄 (@Steelersdepot) December 23, 2020
“No cap”, by the way, means “for real”, but even so, does this mean that Smith-Schuster is not entirely sure he’ll be able to re-sign with the Steelers during the offseason before becoming an unrestricted free agent at the start of the 2021 NFL league year in March? I’m not really sure. After all, and as I have written in previous posts on this site dating back to the summer, the Steelers 2021 salary cap situation isn’t great in its current form and that’s even based on the league-wide number staying the same as 2020, which is far from guaranteed to happen.
The Steelers will have an extremely large amount of work to get done related to their salary cap situation prior to the start of the league year and most definitely before they attempt to re-sign any of their own players set to become unrestricted free agents in March. Not having any close idea of what the NFL’s salary cap number will ultimately be due to the effect COVID has had on the league in 2020 makes it extremely difficult to project what the future will hold for Smith-Schuster.
While many will likely disagree with me, Smith-Schuster’s current value in 2021 is likely right around $16 million per season as that would put him on par with what Los Angeles Rams wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are both currently earning. Depending on how he closes out the 2020 season, Smith-Schuster’s value could creep even higher. However, just because that’s the market value doesn’t mean the Steelers would be willing to pay it.
Below is a projected contract I worked out for Smith-Schuster that averages $17.5 million per year. My structure is very realistic when it comes to the way the Steelers do contracts in regard to guaranteed money and cash flow. The first year cap charge on that example deal is just $6.4 million, which isn’t high at all. Even so, a $6.4 million cap charge in 2021 for Smith-Schuster will be tough for the Steelers to fit in prior to the start of the new league year in March and especially if the league-wide salary cap number comes in at under $198.2 million, which was the 2020 number.
Normally the Steelers annual offseason cap massaging plan is fairly simple to predict. That will be different this coming season due to the seemingly limited restructure options the team has and the fact that something needs to be worked out with Ben Roethlisberger and his contract, which has just one season left on it. There are going to be some offseason salary cap casualties and possibly a lot more than usual and those might include a surprise or two. And that’s just for the team to get cap compliant and nothing more.
Will it be impossible to get Smith-Schuster re-signed before the start of free agency in March? Not really, because anything is possible when it comes to the cap depending on how deep you want to cut and far you want to kick the proverbial can down the road. That said, Smith-Schuster’s Wednesday Instagram post should probably be taken as a clear sign that even he isn’t entirely sure he’ll be a member of the Steelers in 2021. He certainly wants to be and the Steelers would probably like to keep him, but that still might not be enough to get him re-signed to a new deal that is fair for both sides. Stay tuned.