If there has been progress on a new contract between Steelers star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and the team, he’s keeping it to himself.
Speaking to the media ahead of the Steelers’ first padded practice on Monday, Smith-Schuster declined to expand on if there’s been any movement toward a new deal as he enters the final season of his rookie contract, saying the talks are between his agent and the team.
Smith-Schuster is scheduled to earn $1.04 million this season in the final year of his four-year rookie contract and is set to be come an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Historically, the Steelers have not negotiated new contracts with players once the season begins, meaning that the two sides have less than a month to make a new deal that would prevent Smith-Schuster from becoming a free agent.
He did say that whether or not he gets a new contract, he will be a full participant in training camp and the 2020 season.
“I’m just here to play ball,” Smith-Schuster said. “I’m not the kind of guy that is going to sit out.”
The situation between the 23-year-old Smith-Schuster and the team has been muddled by a 2019 season that challenged Smith-Schuster seemingly for the first time in the NFL.
After catching 14 touchdowns and hauling in over 2,300 yards over his first two seasons, Smith-Schuster had just 42 catches for 552 yards and three touchdowns last season, his lowest output in terms of scoring, yards per reception and overall yardage.
There were many factors that contributed to the decline, including a nagging turf toe injury, a concussion and a knee injury that limited him to 12 games overall, an unsettled offensive situation after the loss of star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and the emergence of rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson as another top target.
The Steelers also have a glut of free-agents to be with, Smith-Schuster joined by starting running back James Conner, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, defensive lineman Cam Heyward and offensive linemen Zach Banner, Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villanueva.
The team already has over $100 million in contracts on the books for 2021, including Roethlisberger’s $31.5 million cap hit.