Pittsburgh Sports Personality Celebrates End of Steelers’ ‘Showbiz Era’

JuJu Smith-Schuster and Zach Banner

Michael Reaves and Justin Berl/Getty Images JuJu Smith-Schuster on November 22, 2020 (left); Zach Banner before throwing out the first pitch before a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park on July 5, 2021.

Not everyone in Pittsburgh is upset about the Steelers losing wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency. In the wake of the news, Mark Madden of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (and 105.9 The X) penned a column titled ‘Say Goodbye to the Steelers’ Showbiz Era’ in which he wrote: “I’m glad he’s gone.”

Smith-Schuster may have been popular, but he “wasn’t really that good,” added Madden, before highlighting how Smith-Schuster had one 100-yard receiving game since Antonio Brown left the Steelers following the 2018 season.

Smith-Schuster’s outsized popularity is a testament to the 25-year-old’s social media prowess, argues Madden, fueled by “good-guy stunts, like going to a high school prom and giving a meal to a homeless man.” Not to mention dancing on the logos of opposing teams, as he did on multiple occasions in 2020, to the point that it became a distraction for head coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of his teammates, and arguably a motivating factor for Pittsburgh’s opposition.

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Comparing Smith-Schuster to Hines Ward is Blasphemy, Says Madden

Madden finds comparisons between Smith-Schuster and borderline Hall of Famer Hines Ward to be blasphemous. Never mind that Smith-Schuster’s vicious block on former Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was reminiscent of Ward’s even more debilitating block on Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers, back in 2008.

“Smith-Schuster isn’t as productive as Ward, or as tough, or as team-driven, and isn’t nearly the big-game performer…. Ward was a Super Bowl MVP. Smith-Schuster has never won a playoff game,” reminds Madden, who concedes that the former second-round pick “may fly high on borrowed wings and win a ring in Kansas City. But he’ll be no better than the No. 3 target on the Chiefs,” which is likely true.

At his best, Smith-Schuster has looked like a top No. 2 receiver, and at this point is probably best-suited to be a No. 3 option. Only time will tell if Smith-Schuster can earn some of the $7.75 million that is available to him in performance bonuses in 2022.

Madden is Glad Zach Banner is Gone, Too

Meanwhile, JuJu Smith-Schuster isn’t the only Steelers player Madden is happy to see go.

“I’m glad Zach Banner got cut, too,” he said, referring to the social media-savvy offensive tackle, who played only 32 snaps in 2021, having struggled to recover from the torn ACL he suffered in the 2020 season-opener against the New York Giants. Banner’s contract was terminated on March 16, allowing the Steelers to save the $5 million that he was scheduled to earn in 2022.

“Banner was mostly a backup, was often hurt, but became a cult hero for frequently being announced as “tackle eligible” at Heinz Field. Then he became a radio host, started mining social media and forced himself into the public eye even as his career tumbled,” concluded Madden.

It’s unclear as yet if Banner’s release and letting Smith-Schuster leave is a conscious effort to move away from “showbiz”-type players, though it’s worth noting that Smith-Schuster’s mother believes the Steelers “didn’t want Juju.”

The picture may become clearer in another year or two, perhaps when the Steelers decide whether or not to try to extend or re-sign wide receiver Chase Claypool, who has two years remaining on the rookie contract he signed after being drafted in the second round in 2020.

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