Ex-Steelers Pro Bowler Named Cut Candidate, Potential Steelers Target

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Getty Bleacher Report's Alex Kay argued that the Pittsburgh Steelers should have cut candidate wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on their radar.

The search for the No. 2 wide receiver continues for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the team shouldn’t give up hope on making a major splash, especially with the latest drama surrounding San Francisco 49ers star Brandon Aiyuk, the Steelers should have other targets in mind as well. Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay argued one possible receiver target is former Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Kay named Smith-Schuster a potential cut candidate for the New England Patriots on June 25. As a result, Kay wrote that the Steelers should have the veteran wideout on their radar.

“While it’s unlikely he’ll return to the Pro Bowl form he displayed for the Pittsburgh Steelers in his sophomore season, a healthy Smith-Schuster could still be a major asset for plenty of teams as a high-end No. 3 wideout,” wrote Kay.

Although he posted 933 receiving yards with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in 2022, most of Smith-Schuster’s best NFL seasons came with the Steelers from 2017-21. In 2018, he made the Pro Bowl with 111 receptions, 1,426 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns.

Smith-Schuster, though, could be a cut candidate this summer because he hasn’t produced with the Patriots. Last season, he had 29 receptions with 260 receiving yards and a touchdown in 11 games.

“That may end up being the seven-year veteran’s only campaign with the club despite having two seasons left on a three-year, $25.5 million contract,” wrote Kay.

“While the Pats would be on the hook for a $9.6 million dead money charge in 2024 and another $2.6 million in 2025, they have a league-most $43.3 million in cap space available and may value the roster spot more than the player during a pivotal rebuilding campaign.”

Why Patriots Could Cut the Veteran WR

New England signed Smith-Schuster to a 3-year, $25.5 million contract last offseason. But he didn’t produce like a top receiver because of multiple injuries.

Even when dressed, Smith-Schuster disappointed (because of lingering injuries), averaging a career-low 23.6 yards per game. That was less than half of what he averaged with the Chiefs the prior season.

After the first disappointing campaign in New England, there appears to be an argument to both keep and cut Smith-Schuster. Keeping him could help the development of rookie quarterback Drake Maye. But releasing Smith-Schuster will allow the Patriots to develop a different player at wide receiver.

It’s highly unlikely New England is a contender again before Smith-Schuster’s current contract expires. So, the Patriots should prioritize the team’s long-term goals.

With the salary cap not a concern, the Patriots could move on from Smith-Schuster whenever without any determent if they don’t value his veteran presence.

Could the Steelers Bring Back WR JuJu Smith-Schuster?

The Steelers should still be interested in the veteran receiver market this summer. That’s because as of the end of NFL minicamps, George Pickens was the only wideout on Pittsburgh’s roster who had more than 209 receiving yards last season.

Pittsburgh has made additions at receiver this offseason, but minor ones — Van Jefferson, Quez Watkins and Scott Miller. They also drafted Michigan’s Roman Wilson in the third round.

But as it stands on June 25, one of these receivers will likely start for the Steelers.

If Smith-Schuster is healthy, as he expressed he is to The Boston Herald’s Doug Kyed, then he could be that starter for Pittsburgh instead. He could be particularly effective as a short, intermediate target playing opposite Pickens, who led the NFL in yards per catch last season.

On April 4, former Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats proposed the Steelers trading for Smith-Schuster. At the time, not every Steelers analyst supported the idea, but acquiring him on the waiver wire would be significantly better because Pittsburgh wouldn’t have to give anything up to land the veteran receiver.

Bringing Smith-Schuster into training camp under those circumstances has very little risk and some decent reward.

However, Smith-Schuster also isn’t the perfect wide receiver addition for the Steelers.

With Pittsburgh from 2017-21, he played most of his snaps in the slot. While he’s become more of an outside receiver the past two seasons, Smith-Schuster still lined up at least 40% of the time in the slot during 2022 and 2023, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Steelers already have receivers who can play in the slot with Wilson and Calvin Austin III. Watkins and Miller may be best used in a slot role too.

The ideal receiver addition for the Steelers this offseason is a wideout who can predominantly play outside opposite Pickens. Smith-Schuster isn’t that player, at least not all the time.

Still, pundits shouldn’t fault the Steelers for having an interest in Smith-Schuster if it only costs them a league-minimum contract to bring him in for summer competition.

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