The answer to whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers will re-sign JuJu Smith-Schuster is best answered by another question. What will the 2021 salary cap be? Until that figure is known, Art Rooney II said he doesn’t know if the team will be able to bring him back.
Speaking with WTAE’s Andrew Stockey, Rooney said he can’t comment on Smith-Schuster’s ability to re-sign until the organization knows what the salary cap will be.
“You know, Andrew, I think the first thing we need to know is, what is the cap number?” Rooney said. “And we’re anxiously awaiting that. Hopefully we’re going to get that in the next couple of weeks. We know what the floor is. We’re kind of hoping that there’s at least a little bump over that floor.”
The NFL has set the salary floor at $175 million, a $23 million reduction from where it currently sits today. There’s optimism it comes in higher than that. Every team is actively rooting for that to be the case, but Rooney doesn’t believe the cap will remain flat, a best-case scenario for all 32 clubs.
“But we also know that it’s probably going to be a reduction from where it was last year. Which presents a difficult situation. And obviously we weren’t necessarily planning for this when we put some of these contracts in place. So it puts everybody in a little bit of a tough situation.”
If the cap comes in at the floor of $175 million, it’ll be incredibly difficult to re-sign a big-money player like JuJu Smith-Schuster. Even knowing the ways to massage the cap and the fact first-year cap numbers are typically lowest, managing Smith-Schuster’s contract under those circumstances would be a mountain for Omar Khan to climb. But if the cap can come in higher, the odds of retaining him increase.
As Dave Bryan and I discussed on Friday’s The Terrible Podcast, Steelers’ fans should be rooting for the cap to come in around $190 million. If it does, Pittsburgh will be in relatively good financial shape assuming Cam Heyward/Stephon Tuitt’s contracts are restructured and the team uses voidable year extensions with Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey. That could clear $30 million off the 2021 books, giving the team $15 million of cap space at a $190 million salary cap. From there, a path to retaining Smith-Schuster is easy to see.
Rooney’s comments about Smith-Schuster can apply to any of the team’s marquee free agents. It’s impossible to chart a clear financial course without knowing your starting point. And until that starting point, the salary cap, is revealed, everything is theory and speculation.