Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has said he’d like to remain in Pittsburgh “for life,” but at least one NFL analyst believes it’s in his best interest to move on. In his February 24 column, NFL.com writer Adam Rank argues that “JuJu Smith-Schuster should leave the Pittsburgh Steelers,” mostly because he’s certain to find a better quarterback situation elsewhere.
“It was really telling that, when he hit the market around this time last year, JuJu wanted to stay in Pittsburgh out of loyalty and to prove that he still had it,” offers Rank.
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But Smith-Schuster, 25, didn’t have the kind of season that either he or the organization was hoping for when it re-signed him to a one-year, $8 million contract in March 2021. He got off to a slow start, along with the rest of the Steelers’ offense, catching just 15 passes for 129 yards (8.6 ypc) before suffering a painful-looking shoulder injury during Pittsburgh’s Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos.
Initially it was believed that Smith-Schuster was done for the year, but he returned to practice prior to the team’s January 16 post-season game at Kansas City, sparking speculation that he might be able to return to the lineup.
As it turns out, he did get his roster spot back—at the expense of punter Corliss Waitman—and played against the Chiefs, but didn’t make much of an impact, catching five passes for 26 yards while the Steelers got blown out 42-21.
JuJu Smith-Schuster ‘Hopes to Join’ the Chiefs?
Notably, the Chiefs were one of four teams that made Smith-Schuster a contract offer last season, a list that also included the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles, as well as the Steelers.
“I’m not sure if K.C. would still want to re-kindle that spark,” says Rank, but a January report from Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network indicates that Smith-Schuster “hopes to join” All-Pro/Super Bowl winning quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
Meanwhile, analyst Argun Menon of Pro Football Focus has predicted that Smith-Schuster will sign with the Patriots, adding another potential suitor to the triumvirate of the Chiefs, Ravens and Eagles.
That’s not great news for the Steelers, as Smith-Schuster is considered by many to be the team’s most esteemed unrestricted free agent—and a “must keep” free agent in the eyes of NFL senior analyst Gil Brandt.
Smith-Schuster Should Be ‘Ready to Bounce’?
The biggest challenge in terms of retaining Smith-Schuster figures to be Pittsburgh’s unsettled starting quarterback situation.
“….Talk that Mason Rudolph might start in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement should have JuJu ready to bounce,” offers Rank. “Giving it a shot with one more year of Big Ben made a lot of sense. But staying with Rudolph, with all due respect, is not the same kind of risk,” he concludes.
That’s why making a trade for an established veteran before the start of free agency could make a difference in terms of Pittsburgh’s ability to keep Smith-Schuster, who was the Steelers’ second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Otherwise, Smith-Schuster—who has 323 receptions and 26 receiving touchdowns in 63 career games, per Pro Football Reference—might be gone before the Steelers have a chance to sign a quarterback in free agency or select one in the forthcoming draft.
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