Smith-Schuster's Departure Would Leave Glaring Hole in Steelers Receiving Core

The Pittsburgh Steelers don't have many options to play the role JuJu Smith-Schuster did last season.
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PITTSBURGH -- Chances are JuJu Smith-Schuster isn't with the Pittsburgh Steelers moving forward. 

Despite what his mother is putting on Instagram, or what the fans want, the Steelers don't have the budget to afford a player who's going to be one of the biggest - and most expensive - names in his position group this offseason. 

So, fast forward. The Steelers let Smith-Schuster walk in free agency, and he finds a new home (hopefully away from the AFC North). They promote Chase Claypool to a starter and head into 2021 with Diontae Johnson, Claypool and James Washington manning the outside. 

Not a bad trio for a team that just lost their best receiver. 

There's still a problem, though. The Steelers didn't lose an outside receiver, or at least not how they utilized him. Smith-Schuster occupied the middle of the field for Pittsburgh, and without him, their options on the inside are slim. 

If Smith-Schuster left right now, before the NFL Draft or free agency, the Steelers' best option to work the slot would be Ray-Ray McCloud. You can make the argument for Johnson, but the Steelers have utilized the third-year wideout like they did Antonio Brown, which isn't ideal on the inside. 

Claypool and Washington are by no means slot receivers. Both would be lost on the inside, and if you're taking someone with the nickname Mapletron and not utilizing him like Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson, you're doing yourself an injustice. 

The difficulty in finding a slot receiver is where to look. The Steelers don't have the financial funds to seek out a superstar in free agency; otherwise, they'd just retain Smith-Schuster. 

The NFL Draft has options, but how high on the list is finding a third wideout compared to a new running back and fixing the offensive line? Oh, and no one knows who's playing tight end behind Eric Ebron. 

All more important than a slot man. 

Maybe the Steelers fill the role with a veteran. Maybe Art Rooney II and Mike Tomlin call up A.J. Green and tell him to come finish his career in Pittsburgh and try to win a ring. Or attempt to persuade Larry Fitzgerald to come back to his college stadium for one final ride. 

If they're thinking young, keeping McCloud or putting an offer out there for a player like Isaiah McKenzie are both options that should keep the budget low. 

There's no clear answer to the problem, but it's one that should be addressed. The concern seems to be whether or not Smith-Schuster is returning and not its impact when he leaves - which is a glaring hole in the middle of the field. 

Noah Strackbein is a Publisher with AllSteelers. Follow Noah on Twitter @NoahStrack, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.