There are now 11 days left until the start of the 2021 NFL league year and that means the Pittsburgh Steelers now have 11 days to sign any of their players set to become unrestricted free agents if they don’t want them to test the market. Leading that list of soon-to-be unrestricted free agents for the Steelers is wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has said countless times so far this offseason that he hopes to remain in Pittsburgh. Will he? Jason La Canfora was asked about Smith-Schuster’s chances of re-signing with the Steelers during his Friday interview on 93.7 The Fan and his answer was quite interesting.
“I mean, I won’t say no chance, but again, it would have to be a flat market,” La Canfora said of Smith-Schuster’s chances of re-signing with the Steelers. “It would have to be, I mean, he’s going out there thinking I’m going to get top slot money and you’ve got a guy like Jarvis Landry, who pushed the market to $16 [million] there. I’m sure he’s hoping to get in the vicinity of that.”
Just so everyone is clear, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry has a new money average of $15.1 million. There are also 13 other wide receivers that currently have new money averages greater than Landry’s, according to Over the Cap.
So, what is Smith-Schuster’s market value this offseason? La Canfora thinks it is way below what a lot of us think it is, which is around $17 million a season.
“I’ve talked to some teams who feel like $11 [million] should be the high-water mark for him,” La Canfora said of Smith-Schuster’s market value right now. “Maybe push it to $12 [million]. If he’s closer to $10 than 15 [million], then I don’t know that it’s out of the question because you can get creative with how you structure things and you could put a lump sum payment two years from now when the cap should be soaring again. But if there’s people who are evaluating him closer to $15 [million], that’s going to be too rich for their [the Steelers] blood.”
It’s hard for me to imagine that Smith-Schuster’s current market value is lower than $15 million and even in a possible depressed market as a result of the pandemic. After all, in the last four seasons, only eight other NFL wide receivers have caught more passes than he has. Additionally, only 13 other wide receivers have registered more receiving yards than Smith-Schuster has these last four seasons. Eight of those receivers played more games than Smith-Schuster did during that span of four years as well.
The five wide receivers that currently have new money averages between $15.75 million and $16.5 million are Mike Evans, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Adam Thielen, and Cooper Kupp. Smith-Schuster certainly belongs in that group at the very least and a good argument could be made that he should exit these next 11 days as the earnings leader of that pack of five wide receivers at right around $17 million.
I’m pulling for the Steelers to re-sign Smith-Schuster in these next 11 days and I’m also pulling for the former second-round draft pick out of USC to hit that $17 million per year number as well. Can both of those things happen? The odds are probably against it, but I’m not so sure you can completely rule out the possibility just the same. If the Steelers can get themselves in a position to afford a 2021 cap charge on Smith-Schuster of around $6 million, they can probably afford him at a new money average of $17 million.
Should Smith-Schuster ultimately be willing to accept way less than $17 million per season from the Steelers, the team should be able to make that work for him. Even so, I highly doubt when Smith-Schuster does finally sign a new contract in the next two weeks that his new money average will be less than $15 million like La Canfora suggested on Friday might be the case. We shall see in less than two weeks.