The Salary Cap
Every year NFL teams are forced to say goodbye to players they would like to keep around because they just don’t have the salary cap space to re-sign them. Pittsburgh is no exception and 2021 could be a tough year for the Steelers. Right now, given the Salary Cap for 2021, the Steelers are going to go into the off-season $18 million into the red. That means to even be able to re-sign any free agents they are going to have to make room under the cap.
To manipulate the salary cap the Steelers have spent years restructuring large contracts. By restructuring a contract a player is able to turn salary into a bonus. That bonus is then prorated over the remaining years of the contract. This process lowers that year’s salary cap hit, but it also increases future years.
Restructuring Ben Roethlisberger’s contract over the years now means that his cap hit for 2021 is over $40 million. That means that Roethlisberger will account for over 20% of the Steelers cap room next season. So, the Steelers will have to get very creative with their salary cap in 2021, but it also means that some of their 15 Unrestricted Free Agents will likely become Salary Cap Casualties and are unlikely to return next season.
This is Part 2 of a multi-part series on possible cap casualties for the 2021 season.
Part 2 Wide-Receiver Juju Smith-Schuster
This off-season is going to be a difficult one for Kevin Colbert. Given the Steelers’ salary cap situation there are going to be some tough decisions to make and a lot of salaries to move around.
Juju Smith-Schuster is an impending free agent. He is in the final year of his rookie contract and will be looking for a new deal this off-season. Based on his statistics and age Smith-Schuster is going to be a high-priced free agent. His age and production also makes him a player the Steelers won’t want to lose.
Another reason for concern with Smith-Schuster is the other wide-receivers on the Steelers’ roster.
Pittsburgh has a quality group of young wideouts. Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and Chase Claypool are all still under contract through at least 2021. Tight-end Eric Ebron is also signed through next season and the Steelers have been protecting receiver Deon Cain from being taken off their practice squad this year.
If Juju Smith-Schuster was to leave via free agency the Steelers aren’t in a horrible spot in terms of replacing him. Johnson, Claypool, and Washington would still give the Steelers a quality group of receivers.
Ultimately the decision on Smith-Schuster may come down to just how expensive his new contract turns out to be.
The Steelers will do what they can to keep Juju Smith-Schuster. No one wants to see him leave Pittsburgh, especially this early in his career. The only reason that for concern is that the Steelers actually are in a decent spot to replace Juju on the roster.
There is a chance that Smtih-Schuster is going to price himself out of Pittsburgh. His stats are back looking like a number-one wideout with Ben Roethlisberger back in the line-up. Many teams are going to be interested in his services and given the Steelers salary cap situation it’s going to be hard to keep him in town.
Final verdict: The Steelers find a way to fit Juju’s new contract under the cap and keep the young wideout in Pittsburgh long-term.