The Pittsburgh Steelers will return their entire wide receiver corps from the 2020 season, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud back in black and gold for 2021.
That was a something of an unexpected development, with Smith-Schuster returning to the Steelers on a cap-friendly deal with four voidable seasons after a one-year commitment.
That arrangement will have Smith-Schuster count for just $2.4 million this season against the salary cap, with another $5.6 million pushed toward 2022.
With McCloud back on a one-year deal to avoid restricted free agency and Claypool, Johnson and Washington all plying under their rookie contracts, that leaves the Steelers’ wide receivers room counting extremely lightly against their 2021 salary cap obligations.
In fact, the Steelers are spending less money on their wide receiver corps than any other team in the NFL, according to research by Warren Sharp of Sharp Football.
The Steelers’ top five receivers will count for $7.5 million toward the salary cap this season. With the rest of the position group included, that number rises to $10.5 million, though most of those players are unlikely to make the team. Even at that figure, the Steelers are spending far less on wide receivers than any other NFL team.
most expensive 2021 WR corps$MM (cap hit)
38 LAC, DAL
28 HOU, KC, GB
24 CAR, NYG
22 IND, LAR
17 BAL, LV
15 JAX, ATL, MIN, WAS, SF
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) June 17, 2021
According to Sharp’s research, only the Detroit Lions ($13 million) and Philadelphia Eagles ($14 million) are spending less than $15 million on receivers for this year. Six teams, including division rivals Cleveland, are spending more than $30 million, with Miami’s bank-breaking $45 million receivers room leading the way.
That’s the value of drafting well at the position, as the Steelers used a second-day draft pick in each of the last four seasons on a wide receiver to snag Smith-Schuster, Washington, Johnson and Claypool, and all four have produced.
It’s unlikely the Steelers will be able to keep that entire group together for another season, with Smith-Schuster, McCloud and Washington all entering contract years, but the team’s ability to replenish the position in the draft over and over again should ease concerns over the thought of needing to replace some of those players.