If there were no such thing as a salary cap, the question of whether or not to use the franchise tag on Ju Ju Smith Schuster would be an easy one.  Unfortunately that’s not the case in today’s NFL.  Kevin Colbert and company are faced with a tough decision with their star receiver.  The Steelers are already projected to be over the salary cap heading into next season. Adding a franchise tag salary for a wide receiver will require some major cap manipulation.

The franchise tag number for a wide receiver in 2021 is projected to be around $15 million.  How do the Steelers fit that kind of money under the cap when they are already over the number going into next season?  According to Over the Cap, the projected salary ceiling could be as low as $175 million.  This would put Pittsburgh at $22 million over the threshold.  The best case scenario is a $190 million cap number where the Steelers would be only $7.5 over. https://overthecap.com/looking-ahead-to-2021-salary-cap-space/  Let’s look at the case for and against using the franchise tag on Smith-Schuster.

The case for:

At the very core of this argument is does Kevin Colbert let a valuable asset like Ju Ju Smith-Schuster just walk in free agency?  Putting aside the cost, this is a player who would be extremely valuable as a trade asset.  It’s not good business for the team to let a player like this go without any compensation.  If the Steelers felt there was no way to fit the salary in, there is another option.  Tagging this player, then seeking a trade would be the best course of action here.  Ju Ju Smith Schuster could fetch quite a return in a trade.

Being a valuable trade asset isn’t the only reason to tag Ju Ju.  This is a player who has averaged over 1,000 yards and nearly 8 touchdowns a season with a healthy starting quarterback.  Not to mention he is still younger than some receivers drafted in 2020 at only 24 years old.  Smith Schuster sacrificed some of his game to become the inside receiver in the Steelers new short passing game.  Ju Ju’s  numbers would have been much better had Ben Roethlisberger been willing to push the ball down the field.  There is a good argument that this is a player that Kevin Colbert should prioritize getting under contract next season.

We are in favor bringing Ju Ju back, and will spell out how as part of our Fixing the Steelers series Fixing the Steelers step one: Trade Mike Tomlin

The case against:

The biggest argument against using the franchise tag on Ju Ju Smith Schuster is of course money.  Using the franchise tag on him will result in some deep cuts elsewhere.  In this scenario, Ju Ju would be the only in house free agent retained.  Meaning players like Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, and Mike Hilton would be gone among others.  It wouldn’t stop there however.  Players like Joe Haden, Vince Williams, and Eric Ebron would have to be cut in order to make room for the $15 million cap charge.

You are looking at a pretty gutted roster under this scenario.  Losing all these players to retain a wide receiver is a tough pill to swallow.  Especially when you consider how good Kevin Colbert is at drafting wide receivers.  It’s not crazy to think Colbert could find a replacement in this year’s draft.  Add that to the fact that this team is deeper at receiver than any other position, and it’s hard to defend the use of the tag.

Then there is the perceived social media issues.  Ju Ju was in the news quite a bit at the end of the season.  His tiktok videos dancing on other teams logos created quite a stir.  The comments he made about the Browns before the playoff game did not sit well either.  This however seems very minor in our opinion.  Steelers fans and media might be a little over sensitive to this after the Antonio Brown saga.

The Conclusion:

It’s our opinion the Steelers should bring back Ju Ju Smith-Schuster at any cost.  Even if that cost is using the franchise tag.  Player like this are just too hard to come by, and too valuable to let go.  The Pittsburgh Steelers are in for a major rebuild either this year, or the next.  Player like Ju Ju, TJ Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick are exactly the kind of names you need to build around.