The Steelers are going to be really tight on spending money next offseason. Here’s why they may have to choose between two great players.
It’s no secret that the Steelers are in a bit of a financial bind. After restructuring several contracts to create cap space to sign players like Eric Ebron and Stephen Wisniewski, Pittsburgh is left with just $5.7 million to go around, according to Over the Cap.
Next year, the waters get even murkier. Though the Steelers are set to have $28 million in cap space in 2021 (as it stands right now), there are many players with expiring contracts and several stars who are set to rake in a massive payday.
T.J. Watt is clearly at the forefront of this list. At just 25 years old, Watt has established himself as one of the best edge defenders in all of football – earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2019. He could be in line to be the highest-paid player at his position.
Both players have contracts that are set to expire after the 2020 season, and there haven’t been any contract talks for either player, as far as we know. There is a case to be made for each player in earning a new deal.
Heyward is coming off arguably the best season of his NFL career in which he earned first-team All-Pro honors. He has now had three straight dominant seasons and is in line to be one of the league’s highest-paid defensive lineman. Unfortunately, this dominant run came late in Heyward’s career, and he will be 32 years old before his next deal.
On the other hand, JuJu Smith-Schuster has age on his side. The 23-year-old receiver was electric to start his career and he earned 111 catches, 1,426 yards, and 7 touchdowns in 2018. However, last year was the worst of his career so far, and there are doubts that he could be a true number one wide receiver in the NFL.
The Steelers may not be forced to choose between Heyward and Smith-Schuster. But if they are, what do they do?
Though JuJu is substantially younger than Heyward, I think the latter is more important to the team. Heyward has been a staple to one of the league’s best defensive lines, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, despite reaching his 30s. In addition, Heyward has missed just one game in the last three seasons.
JuJu, on the other hand, has injury concerns in addition to some questions with his recent play and his NFL ceiling. In his first three seasons, he has already missed 6 games and was forced to play banged up for many others.
Though this would be an incredibly difficult decision to make if it came down to it for Pittsburgh, I think with the investments they have made at the wide receiver position, JuJu’s loss would be easier to handle. Perhaps they won’t have to choose, but this is the business of the NFL.