Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said he's hopeful of re-signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers as he prepares to become an unrestricted free agent March 17.
"At the end of the day, I want to have my legacy in Pittsburgh and retire there," Smith-Schuster told TMZ Sports in an interview released Wednesday. "I don't want to leave."
Smith-Schuster has spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Steelers, who selected him in the second round of the 2017 draft.
His best statistical season came in 2018 when he recorded 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. He's also coming off a strong 97-catch campaign in 2020 that saw him post a career-high nine scores while playing all 16 regular-season games.
Smith-Schuster explained on the Yinzhers Podcast last week (via Noah Strackbein of Sports Illustrated) he preferred to remain in Pittsburgh but would otherwise seek out a championship contender on the open market.
"I do want to play for a team that plays for a Super Bowl every year, that competes," he said. "Obviously, the Steelers are that. I do want to play with a great quarterback, not knowing what Ben [Roethlisberger]'s going to do. And I do want to be paid a reasonable price for what I'm worth."
A return to Pittsburgh could be difficult because of the team's financial situation, though.
The Steelers are already over the projected salary cap for 2021 without even factoring in the necessary money to sign their draft picks. While Roethlisberger has signaled a willingness to reduce his $41.25 million cap hit, any money saved will likely be used to upgrade the roster elsewhere.
Pittsburgh already features three receivers who were heavily involved in the offense last season—Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and James Washington—under contract for 2021, as well as tight end Eric Ebron, who can be an effective playmaker over the middle of the field.
Add in the fact that Smith-Schuster should receive some lucrative offers in free agency and a return to the Steelers seems like a long shot unless he's willing to take less than market value.
That's possible because it's clear the 2018 Pro Bowl selection has an admiration for Pittsburgh, but the proposals he gets from other teams starting next month may be too good to pass up.