The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.
After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.
The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?
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: Does JuJu Smith-Schuster’s one-year contract set up a long-term extension next year?
Without the pandemic happening, this year’s salary cap would have probably been somewhere within the vicinity of $210 million, or at least close enough to it. With the pandemic, we took a $15 million step back from where we were, a historic regression that befits a historic global event that has touched just about every walk of life.
Bearing that in mind, it’s been rough on a lot of teams, many of who have had to cut players they would otherwise keep. For the Steelers, the only player they cut was Vince Williams, but they also had Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey retire, whom they might have had to release anyway. And now they’re moving Steven Nelson for reasons that are likely related to the regression of the salary cap.
The shrinking of the cap, though, had a global effect across the NFL. One predictable effect that it had was a softening of the market, particularly at positions anticipated to be strong in the draft—especially at wide receiver.
One might argue that the soft wide receiver market is the only reason that JuJu Smith-Schuster is here, but that sets up the opportunity for the two sides to continue to negotiate over the course of the next year. By the time we have a better feel for what the cap will be in 2022—and perhaps after we see Smith-Schuster play in 2021—there could still be a possibility that he spends his entire career here.