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If the Steelers and JuJu Smith-Schuster don't come up with a long-term deal by 4 p.m. EST on March 17, the USC product will be free to sign with any team in the league. In all likelihood, the Steelers won't be able to re-sign Smith-Schuster, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent. They just don't have enough cap space and the market dictates that Smith-Schuster will make $16 million per year or more.
Smith-Schuster has mentioned that he would like to stay in Pittsburgh, but the NFL is a business and tough decisions have to be made at times. The Steelers are currently projected to be around $22 million over the cap and Smith-Schuster is approaching his second contract in the NFL. Both sides have to do what's best for them.
“I would love to be a Pittsburgh Steeler for life," Smith-Schuster said on the "All things Covered" podcast this past September with former Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden and Patrick Peterson. "I’ve talked to other teammates who are on other organizations and it doesn’t really work out for them very well. Just because they’re offering more money, the grass is not always greener on the other side. I kind of like where I’m at with the grass I’m on. It’s very green. I’ve already established my brand, myself in this organization.”
Second contracts for players in the NFL are usually their biggest payday, so I'd expect Smith-Schuster to try to get the most money that he can this offseason. And deservingly so. But if he learned from other teammates who went to organizations because they offered more money and things didn't work out, like Le'Veon Bell with the Jets, Smith-Schuster should play it smart and try to find a team that pays him well but also an organization that has an established quarterback and a stable front office.
Speaking of Bell, he cashed in on a four-year, $52 million deal with the Jets in March of 2019 and his tenure with the team ended up being a disaster. He really never saw eye to eye with head coach Adam Gase and he was released in October of 2020. Shortly after being released by New York, Bell signed with the Chiefs and he wasn't impressive in Kansas City either, as he ended up being their third-string running back.
The Jets are one of the front-runners to land Smith-Schuster this offseason, as they have almost $69 million in cap space, the third-most in the league. While they do have a new head coach in Robert Saleh who's looking to change the culture of the team, the Jets have been known notoriously as an organization that's operated terribly.
If the Jets offer Smith-Schuster a boatload of cash next month, he should remember his comment back in September when he was on the "All things Covered" podcast in regards to teammates joining other organizations just because they offered more money and things ultimately not working out.
It would behoove of Smith-Schuster to steer far away from Gang Green even if they offer the most green. Just ask Bell.