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Steelers website: JuJu Smith-Schuster “unlikely” to accept offer to stay

Given Ben Roethlisberger’s new $14 million contract with the Steelers, Mike Florio and Peter King analyze why the team needs to strengthen its running backs and stay healthy.

Despite whatever disclaimers and caveats that NFL teams may apply to articles written on websites owned and operated by NFL teams, the fact remains that those websites are owned and operated by NFL teams.

This necessarily makes observations made by team employees on team-owned websites more relevant when it comes to, for example, players who will or won’t be retained in free agency.

Here’s what Bob Labriola of had to say about Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s status with the team: “Smith-Schuster is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 17, and despite his pronouncements on social media that he wants to continue his career with the Steelers, he’s unlikely to want to accept what the cap-strapped Steelers would be able to pay him on a new contract.”

While that hardly qualifies as earth shattering given the well-known cap issues with which the Steelers are struggling, it’s relevant to see what someone from within the team is thinking. Even though Labriola isn’t making the decisions, he has access to those who do. (Team president Art Rooney II, for example, rarely talks to any media members other than Labriola or other employees.)

The Steelers also have a new hammer that can be used when it comes to negotiations with Smith-Schuster, other impending free agents, or veterans who have current contracts with salaries that the team would like to trim. Now that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has slashed his 2021 compensation by $5 million (that’s 26.3 percent of the $19 million he was due to make), the Steelers can point to Roethlisberger in any negotiations with any other players as an example of the kind of sacrifice that needs to be made for the greater good.

This meshes with one of coach Mike Tomlin’s favorite sayings: “We can’t do this with hostages, man. We need volunteers.” And it works. It got Roethlisberger to take an unconditional $5 million haircut, and it surely will be used on other players.

Will it work on Smith-Schuster? Probably not, unless other teams aren’t willing to make a major, multi-year offer for a receiver who is an excellent No. 2 but not equipped to be a No. 1. But the bottom line is that getting players to put “team” above their individual bottom lines is very, very good for the team’s bottom line.