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: Wide receiver will be a high priority again next offseason.
Explanation: While the Steelers arguably have a strong top four at the position right now, they don’t have much in the way of depth behind them. Both JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington will be unrestricted free agents after this season.
A position being of high priority and addressing that position with high-priority resources don’t always go hand-in-hand. We saw that with the cornerback position this offseason. When the Steelers lose two of their top four wide receivers next March, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going make a big investment in it.
But that will be the reality. For one thing, they just don’t pay many wide receivers, and Smith-Schuster was lucky to get a one-year deal. He’s already going to be on the books for dead money next year because of the void years. Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool will be their guys moving forward, and presumably one of them will get paid.
But they will need to add to that, because Ray-Ray McCloud isn’t going to be your number three — or if he is, you have a problem.
The Steelers rarely pay wide receivers, but Smith-Schuster feels like the one to become an exception. He’s not going to reset his market this year, certainly not playing with Ben Roethlisberger in his twilight, so he’s going to sign a more modest contract that the Steelers could actually afford.
That will give them Smith-Schuster, Claypool, and Johnson for 2022, with Claypool under control for 2023, as well. Washington will be gone, but if you have a strong top three, you can’t call wide receiver a high priority. After all, Washington had a hard enough time just getting on the field for much of last season, even if he still managed to get into the end zone five times, the most in his career.