It was long assumed leading up to the start of the new league year that JuJu Smith-Schuster would find a better offer in free agency and leave the Pittsburgh Steelers. That doesn’t really happen, and he ended up returning on a one-year deal.
Many free agents opted to sign one-year contracts this offseason in response to a deflated market, a consequence of the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in the salary cap dropping roughly $15 million from where it was a year ago.
Since signing his one-year deal, the assumption, again, was that he would play out the year and then once again hit the open market, landing the big deal he was waiting for. But is it possible that that deal comes from Pittsburgh? He’s not ruling it out.
“I think to come back for another four more years and have nine years as a Steeler would be tremendous and remarkable”, he told reporters after practice yesterday. “It would be unheard of from a receiver standpoint. No doubt. Don’t get it wrong. Pittsburgh is definitely still an option on the table, and I know that they’ll fight hard and they’re one of the teams that have the most cap”.
Outside of Antonio Brown and Hines Ward, it has been a long time since any wide receiver has spent really anywhere close to a decade with the Steelers. As is the case with most teams, that’s largely because it’s hard, arguably not even preferable, to pay two wide receivers significant money simultaneously. As you’ve seen, the Atlanta Falcons just traded Julio Jones with Calvin Ridley developing and nearing a big contract himself.
Brown could have been the one to crack the decade mark, but of course, he forced his way out of the organization in 2019. In his nine seasons here, though, he caught 837 passes for 11207 yards with 74 touchdowns, having clearly established himself as one of the premiere receivers in the game.
Following his second season, during the final draft in which most rookies signed three-year deals rather than four, Pittsburgh signed him to a five-year extension worth just under $42 million. In 2017, he signed a new four-year extension worth $68 million, an average of $17 million per season. That deal would be inherited and then revised by the Oakland Raiders after they traded for him.
Outside of Brown, Smith-Schuster is the closest the team has come to making a second-contract investment in the position in the post-Ward wide receiver room. But will he ever actually get a multi-year post-rookie contract? With the budding Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool lurking in the wings, that’s less certain, without a doubt.