JuJu Smith-Schuster is headed toward an offseason that could produce a major change for him -- he just isn't ready to embrace the thought.
The receiver is scheduled to hit free agency in less than a month, and his current team, the Steelers, doesn't appear financially capable of retaining him at or near market value, at least not in their current state. When tracked down by TMZ, Smith-Schuster said he's not yet considering a different team -- not even the two located near his home of Long Beach, California.
"To be home close to family would be cool, but at the end of the day, I want to have my legacy in Pittsburgh and retire there," Smith-Schuster told the site. "I don't want to leave."
Not wanting to leave is a nice sentiment and all, but it might be inevitable. Pittsburgh has to find a way to creatively restructure Ben Roethlisberger's large contract, which carries a $41.25 million cap hit, in order to find its way under the tightened salary cap for 2021. As it stands now, the Steelers are roughly $19 million over the projected minimum salary cap of $180 million, per Over The Cap.
As we can see from the numbers above, that's a significant gap to bridge with Roethlisberger. It feels as if more cuts are possible just to make the numbers work, and that's well before the Steelers entertain attempting to re-sign Smith-Schuster.
For now, though, Smith-Schuster only sees himself in black and gold, telling TMZ, "Until I actually get let go, other than that, I'm Pittsburgh for life."
Being more Pittsburgh than even Wiz Khalifa would mean Smith-Schuster would stick around for the remaining window of Roethlisberger's career. So while it's not all that realistic at this point, Smith-Schuster still let his thoughts on his quarterback be known, pointing out their rapport would be beneficial for both parties.
"I think he has something in the tank," Smith-Schuster said. "One thing about Big Ben is that I have that chemistry with him, so for them to even let him go or to even think about it wouldn't be the best. I would love to play with Ben. I always tell him give me four years, but obviously, he's a lot older, so we'll see how that goes."
Tuesday's news of Roethlisberger's willingness to work with the Steelers on a restructure makes his return much more possible. It could also spell the end of Smith-Schuster in Pittsburgh.