Justin Jefferson contract makes George Pickens' future with Steelers even murkier

The Steelers already had a George Pickens problem; now they have two.
George Pickens, Steelers
George Pickens, Steelers / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As the Pittsburgh Steelers were closing in on the end of OTAs, we learned of NFL news that quickly became a trending topic. Justin Jefferson received a contract extension with the Minnesota Vikings... and it's every bit as lucrative as we could have imagined.

On June 3rd, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Jefferson officially inked a four-year deal with the Vikings worth a whopping $140 million. This contract extension includes $110 million in guarantees and equates to a substantial $35 million per season in new money average.

Jefferson, the former 22nd overall pick by the Vikings in 2020, has been utterly dominant since he arrived in the NFL, and nobody will say that he doesn't deserve to be the highest-paid receiver in the game. Unfortunately, resetting the WR market creates a dilemma that the Pittsburgh Steelers will need to deal with next offseason.

Steelers will have a tough decision with George Pickens

Despite being at the mercy of suspect quarterback play and the questionable play design of OC Matt Canada, George Pickens earned a breakout season in 2023. In Year 2, Pickens managed to record 1,140 yards and 5 touchdowns on an impressive 10.8 yards per target.

While Pittsburgh's quarterbacks have been among the lowest in passer rating each of the past two seasons, Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph, and Mitch Trubisky collectively had a passer rating over 100 in 2022 and 2023 when throwing to Pickens. The future is looking bright.

But the Steelers already have a problem with their young receiver.

When things aren't going Pickens' way, the young wide receiver has a hard time keeping his emotions in check. Some have accused him of even 'checking out' of the game, and videos of his blocking effort (or lack thereof) went viral during the 2023 season.

There was already some question as to whether or not the Steelers could entrust Pickens with a lucrative contract extension because of his attitude. Now we can assume Pittsburgh will have to spend even more money to keep him around beyond the 2025 season.

Though Pickens still has two years left on his rookie deal, Omar Khan would likely need to begin contract negotiations next offseason to ensure that Pickens stays in Pittsburgh. There's not a chance that the former second-round pick earns the type of money that Justin Jefferson just received. However, Jefferson's deal sets the stage for negotiations with Pickens' agent.

Jefferson becomes the fourth wide receiver to earn upwards of $30 million per year in average annual salary. Now over 20 NFL receivers are making more than $20 million per season. This includes an aging Keenan Allen as well as players like Calvin Ridley and Nico Collins.

George Pickens will be 23 years old for the entire 2024 season. If his production takes a significant step forward with an improved offensive line and a pair of new quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, the Steelers could be forced to fork up a lot of money to keep him in Pittsburgh after 2025.

This obviously isn't the worst problem to have. If we are having this conversation after the 2024 season, it means that Pickens lived up to expectations. But investing a ton of guaranteed money into a player who can check out of games at times creates a difficult conundrum. If Pickens doesn't clean this up, he's not guaranteed to see a second contract from Pittsburgh.

Let's hope Pickens matures quickly, because he's going to earn a lot of money on his next contract.