Ben Roethlisberger agreed to a contract restructure on Thursday that will clear $15 million in salary cap space. The news of the transition quickly spread on social media, where it caught the attention of one JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Smith-Schuster, who has not been shy about his desire to remain with the Steelers, reacted to the news while asking the Steelers to begin talks about his own expiring contract. As it currently stands, Smith-Schuster's current contract with the Steelers will expire March 17 at 4 p.m.
"Now let's talk," Smith-Schuster wrote on Instagram in response to the news of Roethlisberger's new contract.
The Steelers leader in receptions last season, Smith-Schuster is hoping to continue his career in Pittsburgh, where he quickly rose to stardom following his highly successful rookie season. Smith-Schuster's on-field performance and infectious personality has made him one of the NFL's most recognizable faces. And while he is expected to have a robust market in free agency, Smith-Schuster would rather lock something in with the Steelers than test the market.
"At the end of the day, I want to have my legacy in Pittsburgh and retire there," Smith-Schuster recently told TMZ Sports. "I don't want to leave."
In four seasons in Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster has 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.
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 recently said that the organization will continue to have daily conversations about each of its free agents leading up to March 17. One free agent that Colbert has specifically talked about is 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're never going to eliminate a great player like Bud Dupree because we don't know what Bud's market is, and Bud doesn't know what his market is," Colbert said, via Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. "I think that's pretty common for not only our free agents but the whole free agency group. Until we get a solid cap number, we don't know. We just have to adjust and know that he might be a possibility; he might not be. Only time will tell with that, but we'd love to be able to keep a Bud Dupree because Bud's a special player, but Bud and T.J. together are a special group."
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. But based on his recent comments, it appears that Smith-Schuster would be willing to make less than market value in order to remain with the Steelers. This is assuming that the Steelers are open to the possibility of re-signing Smith-Schuster, as Pittsburgh has two other receivers -- Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool -- under contract for the next two and three years, respectively.
"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... . 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."