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ESPN predicts JuJu Smith-Schuster will follow the contract path of Le’Veon Bell

The Pittsburgh Steelers might have a contract situation on their hands in a few seasons.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The thought of JuJu Smith-Schuster being bood and ridiculed on social media is tough to fathom at this point in the young wide receiver’s career. Everyone has loved Smith-Schuster since the day he donned the black-and-gold for the first time.

But will they be singing the same tune in two years when his rookie contract is up and he wants to get paid?

This is where the fact Smith-Schuster was a second round draft pick comes into play. Unlike a first round pick, the Steelers have no 5th year option on Smith-Schuster. The same was true for Bell coming out of Michigan State. When these young players out-perform every aspect of their contract, they want to be paid their worth. Only problem there is sometimes the team isn’t willing to give them that type of compensation.

The NFL and NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) gives the team the ability to place the franchise tag on players, and Steelers fans know all too well what this is like after the fiasco that was Le’Veon Bell’s contract negotiations before leaving via free agency.

ESPN writer Dan Graziano recently decided to see which players he thinks could be on the Le’Veon Bell path, and possibly walk in his footsteps a la sitting out an entire season, and Smith-Schuster was a focal point of his article.

See what he had to say:

With that in mind, Pittsburgh could have a similar problem on its hands in a couple of years with another star second-round pick. Standout wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is entering his third NFL season and is vastly underpaid. He can’t make an issue of it this year or next, because unless a player has put in four years’ worth of service time, he has to report within 30 days of the start of the season or lose a year of credit toward free agency. But the Steelers and their fans certainly hope Smith-Schuster continues to play at a level that keeps his contract looking like a steal.

Now, every circumstance is different, and many players likely wouldn’t want to subject themselves to the public heat Bell absorbed. We don’t know this far out whether Smith-Schuster is the kind of guy who would make a major issue out of his rookie contract in its final years or chafe against a franchise tag as Bell did. Just Wednesday, Smith-Schuster made a point of announcing he didn’t plan to make trouble. As one person I interviewed while researching this story pointed out, being a lifelong Steeler carries post-career financial benefits that Bell won’t get to enjoy the way guys like Franco Harris do.

Now that you know the background, here is a more detailed look at Smith-Schuster’s current situation, and if he could “pull a Le’Veon”.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pick: No. 62 in 2017

We mentioned Smith-Schuster earlier, but the year in which he could “pull a Le’Veon” would be 2022. This assumes he continues his high-level production and that the Steelers franchise him in 2021 and again in 2022, mirroring Bell’s path. Smith-Schuster is in line to be the Steelers’ No. 1 wide receiver with Antonio Brown gone. Even with Brown on the team last season, Smith-Schuster finished fifth in the league in receiving yards. He is scheduled to make nearly $850,000 this year and $1.04 million in 2020. And remember, as a second-rounder, he is not eligible for performance-based escalators. Another 1,400-yard season would make Smith-Schuster the league’s best bargain. Except for maybe this next guy.

The numbers Graziano throws out there aren’t made up, and anyone who thinks Smith-Schuster hasn’t out-performed his current contract is a little crazy. The question here is the attitude of the player. Bell wanted to reset the market value for the running back position. He wanted to set a new standard. But not every player wanting a new contract desires to be the highest paid at their position.

Will JuJu want to set a new standard? Will he want to break the bank? Or will this be a non-factor for the budding superstar? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!