Though not an official proclamation the way it felt with Bud Dupree, the people who run the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team website don’t seem optimistic about WR JuJu Smith-Schuster returning to the black and gold. Bob Labriola reviewed the WR position over on Steelers.com and included this nugget of information about Smith-Schuster’s pending free agency.
“Smith-Schuster is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 17, and despite his pronouncements on social media that he wants to continue his career with the Steelers, he’s unlikely to want to accept what the cap-strapped Steelers would be able to pay him on a new contract.”
That’s less of an iron-clad statement and more of reading the tea leaves. Still, it’s notable because Labriola is on the inside as a team employee and generally has a good feel for what the team will do in the future. Pittsburgh has gotten themselves under the cap and with a couple of moves, could have roughly $7-10 million in cap space before the start of the new league year. That’s better than what some may have anticipated but it still isn’t a lot of money especially considering all the free agents the Steelers could re-sign.
There have been differing reports on what Smith-Schuster’s value is. Most, including us, believe he’ll cost at least $15-16 million per year. He’s a young, productive receiver on an open market that naturally drives prices up. But yesterday, Jason La Canfora speculated his market could be much cooler, somewhere in the $11 million range. If that’s true, there are obviously better odds Smith-Schuster does re-sign with the Steelers. Especially now that Ben Roethlisberger is confirmed to play at least one more season.
As Labriola alluded to, Smith-Schuster has publicly repeated a desire to come back to the Steelers. At a fan meet and greet yesterday, he told those who attended he was coming back to Pittsburgh. But that all sounds good until there’s money on the line. And if Pittsburgh can’t or won’t pay him what he believes is fair market value, it’s difficult seeing Smith-Schuster return. He’d be crazy to take a “hometown discount” for his first mega NFL contract.
Update (4:05 PM): JuJu’s mom responded to the report on Instagram, calling it “fake news.”
— Steelers Depot 🧐 (@Steelersdepot) March 7, 2021