For the second offseason in a row, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is slated to be an unrestricted free agent. Last spring, the former USC product rejected contract offers from at least two other teams, including the arch-rival Baltimore Ravens. But now the grass may be looking greener outside Pittsburgh, especially with longtime Steelers franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger having apparently played his last game.
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‘It’s No Secret’ Where JuJu Smith-Schuster Wants to Play in 2022?
In an article for ProFootballNetwork.com, veteran NFL reporter Aaron Wilson says “it’s no secret in NFL circles” that Smith-Schuster “hopes to join the Chiefs as a free agent and has expressed that desire,” citing multiple league sources.
It makes perfect sense that Kansas City would be an attractive destination for Smith-Schuster. After all, the Chiefs are led by one of the best young quarterbacks in the game in former league MVP and former Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes.
Moreover, Smith-Schuster fits best on a team where he would be the No. 2 or No. 3 receiving option—where there is at least one top-quality receiver to open up the field for him, much like Antonio Brown did during Smith-Schuster’s first few seasons in Pittsburgh. Kansas City is also a good fit in that regard, thanks to Tyreek Hill’s blazing speed and Travis Kelce’s first-team All-Pro skills at tight end.
That’s why Chiefs head coach Andy Reid tried to entice Smith-Schuster to come to Kansas City last year, calling him and “sending me Lombardi Trophy pictures” said the 25-year-old receiver in April 2021. The implication was that with Mahomes at quarterback, the Chiefs have a chance to compete for a Super Bowl title every year. That’s probably true, as the Chiefs have reached the AFC championship game in all four seasons in which Mahomes has been Kansas City’s starter, with one Super Bowl victory to date.
Better yet for the Chiefs—and other potential suitors in free agency—Smith-Schuster figures to come at a relatively modest cost, much like last year when he signed a one-year contract with the Steelers for $8 million. That’s because he missed the vast majority of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery, an injury that limited him to just five regular season games, during which he caught 15 passes for 129 yards.
Yet he managed to return to practice in time to play in Pittsburgh’s 42-21 Wild Card loss to the Chiefs on January 16, 2022. He caught five passes for 26 yards in the losing effort and got a first-hand look at Kansas City’s offensive juggernaut up close, much like he did in Week 16, when he watched the Chiefs blow out the Steelers, 36-10.
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Counterpoint: ‘Don’t Be Surprised’ if JuJu Smith-Schuster Remains With the Steelers
On the other hand, ESPN’s Steelers beat reporter, Brooke Pryor, thinks it’s anything but a foregone conclusion that Smith-Schuster will be playing elsewhere next season. In a recent ESPN.com article evaluating the “biggest signing decisions” for each NFL team, she says she considers it “likely” that he will re-sign with the team that drafted him in 2017.
“Once Smith-Schuster went down in Week 5 with a significant shoulder injury, it was obvious how much the Steelers missed his physicality and energy,” she writes. “Smith-Schuster will undoubtedly keep an eye on the quarterback situation, but don’t be surprised if he’s back in a Steelers uniform next season,” she concludes, making reference to the fact that both Mason Rudolph and former Washington first-round pick Dwayne Haskins are relatively unattractive options, especially if one has the chance to move forward with Patrick Mahomes.
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