The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a lot of prominent players, most of them starters, this offseason. Whether it was through free agency, retirement, or salary cap casualties, the collective drain of talent with Maurkice Pouncey, Matt Feiler, Alejandro Villanueva, James Conner, Vance McDonald, Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton is significant, to say the least, the full toll of which will not be measured until the regular season starts.
One of the few prominent players that they were able to keep, on a one-year deal, was wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, with the substantial drop in the salary cap playing a double-edged sword in that regard. While it drained their own resources, it also discouraged other teams from committing a lot of money to many free agents, which kept him affordable.
“We felt going into this offseason with the cap going down, it was going to be a difficult road for a lot of free agents”, Kevin Colbert told Mike Florio during an interview yesterday. “And we felt that there was probably going to be a lot of short-term deals because players would want to get back out there and test the market again next year when, hopefully, the cap goes up”.
“We always left the door open. We encouraged players, ‘look, find out what’s out there, do the best you can, and then call us, keep us in the loop, and then maybe we can figure something out’”, he added. “In JuJu’s case, it was great that we were able to keep him with us, because he can help us and he can help Ben try to win a Super Bowl”.
Smith-Schuster was an unrestricted free agent this offseason after spending the first four years of his career with the Steelers. Coming off of a fairly average season, he was met with a fairly average market value in a very depleted landscape overall, so it’s no surprise that he decided to come back to familiar grounds.
He returns to a strong four-deep receiving corps that also includes Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington, which will be the strength of the offense once again, and hopefully even more so with the continued maturation of the young players.
It would be interesting to know how many others came back to the Steelers after exploring their market and how the front office responded, particularly somebody like Hilton, who ended up signing with the Cincinnati Bengals, and who, in a vacuum, is undoubtedly a player they would have liked to keep.