The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the midst of their first true transitional period in decades, and JuJu Smith-Schuster is expected to be part of it.
Smith-Schuster will test the free agency market for the second time in two years when it officially opens on March 14.
Though not to the extent that Ben Roethlisberger has, Smith-Schuster has been part of the fabric of life in Pittsburgh for years.
ALL the latest Steelers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Steelers newsletter here!
After posting an impressive 917 yards and seven scores as a rookie, the wideout had a breakout second season with 1,426 yards and another seven touchdowns. According to Pro Football Reference, Smith-Schuster earned All-Rookie Team honors in 2017 and made the Pro Bowl the following year.
But much of Smith-Schuster’s success was opposite Antonio Brown, and he hasn’t posted a 1,000-yard season since the Steelers traded Brown. To make matters worse, due to injuries, Smith-Schuster hasn’t played a full season in his five-year career. A dislocated shoulder limited him to five games, 129 yards and no touchdowns in 2021.
Smith-Schuster’s Future in Pittsburgh
There’s still a need for a wide receiver of Smith-Schuster’s caliber in Pittsburgh. Chase Claypool hit an unforgiving sophomore slump in 2021, and Diontae Johnson had a case of the drops in the latter part of the season.
Many fans were pleasantly surprised when Smith-Schuster re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a one-year contract in March 2021. Had teams not been cash-strapped due to the pandemic, Smith-Schuster wouldn’t be in Pittsburgh right now.
So the chances of the Steelers signing him again are slim to none. But we all thought that last time he was a free agent — anything can happen.
Smith-Schuster’s shoulder injury will certainly give teams pause before offering exorbitant amounts of money on a long-term deal. That could prompt the Steelers to do a similar deal for their beloved receiver — one more season to audition for your future home while helping your current team work through an offensive transition.
While Smith-Schuster’s unexpectedly early return for the playoffs didn’t do much to increase his market value, it speaks volumes that he was back on the field three short months post-surgery. Resiliency is a key trait that teams look for when adding to their roster.
After the Steelers’ heartbreaking loss to the Chiefs in the wild card round of the playoffs, Smith-Schuster took to social media and reiterated what he said last offseason, “I’d love to be Pittsburgh for life.”
JuJu’s Next Quarterback
Considering JuJu Smith-Schuster will be catching passes from a quarterback other than whoever is at the helm in Pittsburgh, a common question from the media has been what his preference is.
At a 7-Eleven-sponsored Superfan Influencer Training Camp in Dallas on February 2, Smith-Schuster had this to say about the city’s star quarterback: “He’s a great quarterback. Catching balls from him in a facility like this, I wouldn’t mind it.”
The event was in Dallas, at Cowboys World Headquarters, with Dak Prescott. Who wouldn’t say something like that under those circumstances?
But it could work.
Why Dallas Makes Sense for Smith-Schuster
According to USA Today’s Cowboys Wire, three wide receivers are set to become free agents next month. One is Michael Gallup, a significant part of Dallas’ offense since coming into the league in 2018. Gallup has contributed 2,902 yards and 15 touchdowns over his career, but a calf and season-ending ACL injury hampered his 2021 campaign.
With the Cowboys currently $21.70 million in the red for the 2022 season (according to OvertheCap.com), Gallup could easily be a cap casualty and fellow free-agent wide receivers Cedrick Wilson, Jr. and Noah Brown.
While Smith-Schuster automatically makes any team better, he’s a No. 2 receiver at best, which makes Dallas the perfect landing spot. There he’d be surrounded by two former first-round draft picks in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. Add Smith-Schuster to their wide receiver room and you’re looking at the best trio in the NFL.
Follow the Heavy on Steelers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!
• Fans Roast Antonio Brown After Twitter Message to Ben Roethlisberger
• T.J. Watt Confesses to Breaking NFL Rule During Steelers-Ravens Game
• ‘Realistic’ Trade Scenario Links Gardner Minshew to Steelers