Is JuJu Smith-Schuster Too Expensive For Pittsburgh?

The countdown to free agency begins, and although JuJu Smith-Schuster has been vocal about wanting to return to Pittsburgh next season, the big question remains can Steelers really afford him?
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One of the biggest names floating around the free agent market right now is former USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster

Smith-Schuster has already made a name for himself in his four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and has a booming presence on social media. 

Since being drafted back in 2017, the dynamic wideout has played in 58 games, had 308 receptions, 3,726 yards, and 26 touchdowns. He also had a career high of nine touchdowns in 2020.

The 24-year-old was the leading wideout to receive passes from QB Ben Roethlisberger, finishing the 2020 season with 97 receptions. 

There is no question that Steeler fans love the former Trojan for his ball skills, dancing moments and overall antics, but is all of this enough for Mike Tomlin to extend his contract for a couple more years?

According to Sports Illustrated's AllSteelers publisher Noah Strackbein, Smith-Schuster may be too expensive for what the Steelers can afford.

"When it comes to money he is worth too much for them to keep at the current moment. They are somewhere around $15 million dollars over the salary cap right now, they have 24 free agents, a lot of guys are starters including JuJu. But unfortunately the Steelers have depth at wide receiver and because of that, a guy like JuJu who is going to be worth $12-15 million dollars this offseason has a better opportunity to walk away."

Stackbein went on to say, "I think the Steelers know that, I think JuJu knows that, and at some point I think they might dig into him once he hits the open market and he gets a value. But until then I think it is a long shot that he stays in Pittsburgh."

TMZ Sports interviewed the former Troy wideout in Los Angeles about his desires going into free agency and Smith-Schuster said, "to be home, [and] close to family would be cool. But at the end of the day I want to have my legacy in Pittsburgh and retire there. I don't want to leave."

[READ: JuJu Smith-Schuster Doesn't See Himself Wearing A Rams Jersey Anytime Soon]

Although Smith-Schuster has been vocal about wanting to play at Heinz Field next season, the salary cap complications the Steelers face could present some challenges to re-sign the young wideout.

To add another layer to all of this, Pittsburgh has plenty of depth at the wide receiver position in Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. They also have the option to draft a younger, less expensive receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft, if they decide to release JuJu.

Smith-Schuster possibly hinted that his level of confidence with the Steelers this offseason isn't going well. He replied to former USC Trojan Zach Banner's tweet about going dark until his new contract was signed, citing "wish I can get one."

March 15, is when the legal tampering period between NFL teams and agents begins. March 17 is when free agency officially kicks off.  

Smith-Schuster officially hits the open market on March 17. According to spotrac.com the 24 year-old signed a four year, $4,195,779 deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2017 which included a $1,191,475 signing bonus, $1,847,192 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $1,048,945.

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