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: The Steelers will make a strong push to retain wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency.
Explanation: While they will by no means be able to afford the franchise tag route, it is reasonable to believe that the Steelers will work hard to try to keep four-year veteran wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the black and gold—whether they actually succeed in doing so or not.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is the only skill position player on the team with which Ben Roethlisberger has ben above-average rapport. While he might not be the most frequently-targeted player per snap (that would be Diontae Johnson), he is the player that he turns to when he needs a play to be made, especially on third down.
You don’t let those sorts of players go without fighting for them, especially given all of the question marks surrounding the rest of the wide receiver group. James Washington is just James Washington. Johnson has major consistency concerns. Chase Claypool has to show that his rookie year is not a fluke.
Matt Canada is going to run a different offense than we saw in 2021, and that will hopefully mean a wider variety of pass looks, in which Smith-Schuster will be more valuable than he was able to show last year.
Given the reports that the salary cap is likely to come in south of $190 million, it might not even be realistic for them to make a strong push to keep Smith-Schuster that would be taken seriously. They can retain a few other less pricey free agents for a similar price that would have a greater net benefit than signing one wide receiver would have, which is prudent given the number of holes they have.
This is also why they keep drafting wide receivers. They let Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant and Sammie Coates go, too. Only one or two per decade actually get an extension, and Smith-Schuster hasn’t proven to be the one they’re going to commit to long-term.