It's never a good sign when the team's website you play for says you're unlikely to re-sign with said team. The general manager isn't the one authoring the piece and neither is the coach or team owner, so it doesn't mean there's no chance it could happen. But when you're team site says it isn't happening, it is a pretty strong indicator you're headed for a separation.
Such is the case in Pittsburgh. The Steelers official website posted a story by their top writer, Bob Labriola, today breaking down what the wide receiver position looked like in 2020 and what fans should expect in 2021. In the "look ahead" section, Labriola wrote the following:
"Smith-Schuster is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 17, and despite his pronouncements on social media that he wants to continue his career with the Steelers, he's unlikely to want to accept what the cap-strapped Steelers would be able to pay him on a new contract."
Again, this is a writer prognosticating what he believes is going to happen, so the report should be received thusly. But the fact that it's on steelers.com isn't a good omen for Smith-Schuster to return even though, as Labriola points out, he's said several times he wants to.
The Steelers currently have just under $8 million in free cap space, according to Spotrac, after renegotiating Ben Roethlisberger's contract. Smith-Schuster is expected to command an annual salary worth more than that figure. Steelers star pass rusher Bud Dupree is also a free agent and the Steelers have to sign their rookie draft picks too so money is tight.
While the Steelers still have options they'll likely exercise to lower their cap hit, like releasing veteran players or renegotiating contracts, there are other areas of need more pressing than wide receiver. Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson both proved capable pass catchers in 2020 and the fact is Smith-Schuster has proven to be better suited as a No. 2 wideout than a No. 1. Though he'll likely expect near No. 1 money as a free agent.
It'll be interesting to see who the Steelers prioritize in free agency between Dupree and Smith-Schuster. They are both talented players, but Dupree's floor and ceiling are both higher than Smith-Schuster's and he plays a more valuable position in football. It doesn't seem like they can sign both of them, and if the Steelers website is any indication, Smith-Schuster might need to start looking at homes elsewhere.