JuJu Smith-Schuster says he would ‘love to stay with Steelers’ but wants to be paid market value

JuJu Smith-Schuster wants to stay in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers‘ lack of salary cap space will likely lead to the former Pro Bowl receiver continuing his career in another city. 

With less than a month until the start of free agency, the 24-year-old receiver discussed his current team while previewing what he will be looking for once he hits the open market. Smith-Schuster is just one of 19 Steelers that are slated to become free agents on March 17. 

“I do want to play for a team that competes for the Super Bowl every year,” Smith-Schuster told the Yinzhers Podcast. “That’s in the playoffs. Obviously, the Steelers are that. I do want to play for a great quarterback, not knowing what Ben’s going to do. I do want to be paid a reasonable price for what I’m worth. 

“In all consideration, I would love to stay with the Steelers. I would love to stay with them, but as of right now, we’re just kind of up in the air, waiting.” 

Among the Steelers’ soon-to-be free agents are three members of Pittsburgh’s 2017 draft class: Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner and cornerback Cameron Sutton. When asked specifically about that draft class, general manager Kevin Colbert said the organization will continue to have daily conversations about each of its free agents leading up to March 17. One free agent that Colbert did specifically mention was outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who had eight sacks through 11 games last season before sustaining a torn ACL. A former first-round pick, Dupree has recorded 19.5 sacks over his past 27 games. 

“We’d love to be able to keep a Bud Dupree,” Colbert said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Bud is a special player, and Bud and T.J. (Watt) together is a special group.” 

As Smith-Schuster alluded to, there are questions surrounding the future of Ben Roethlisberger, as Colbert was noncommittal when addressing Roethlisberger’s status for the 2021 season. Roethlisberger has stated that he wants to come back and is willing to restructure his contract. If the Steelers decide to go in a different direction, Colbert said that Mason Rudolph will be in line to be Pittsburgh’s starter for the ’21 season. 

In four seasons in Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster caught 308 of 443 targets for 3,726 yards and 26 touchdowns. After a fast start to his NFL career, Smith-Schuster’s production has dipped over the past two seasons. Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury in 2019 contributed to Smith-Schuster’s statistical drop-off that season. His role as a possession receiver within the Steelers’ offense last season led to him averaging just 8.6 yards per catch. 

Smith-Schuster would likely have to accept less than his projected market value if he wants to remain in Pittsburgh. His current market value is projected at $81 million over five years, according to Spotrac. Even with the raised minimum salary cap from $175 million to $180 million, that appears to be more money than the Steelers can afford. 

“It’s always good to have your legacy in one place,” Smith-Schuster said. “Obviously, playing for the Steelers would be awesome. As of right now, I’m still a Steeler until free agency.”

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