Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is generally regarded as one of the Top 25 free agents available this winter, coming in at No. 23 on this representative list. So it’s no surprise that a handful of teams have already been linked to the 24-year-old receiver/social media phenom.
According to John Clayton of ESPN (Seattle), one of the teams in question is the Las Vegas Raiders. Appearing on 93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh) with The PM Team of Poni & Mueller, Clayton made an offhand remark that caught the attention of the show’s hosts.
“You know the Raiders and several other teams are going to be moving on” Smith-Schuster, said Clayton matter-of-factly.
“The Raiders like JuJu, huh?” asked one of the show’s hosts.
“Yeah, from what I hear,” added Clayton, saying, “a lot of people do…. JuJu is one of the better free agent wide receivers. Allen Robinson [Chicago Bears] is the favorite but somewhere in that top three or four you’ve got JuJu.”
The Raiders Haven’t Had Much Luck Integrating Former Steelers Receivers
Apparently Las Vegas hasn’t been scared off by its past experiences with ex-Steelers receivers.
Most notably, in March 2019 the Raiders acquired Antonio Brown from the Steelers for a third- and fifth-round draft pick. Brown never played a game for the Raiders, and the team released him in September 2019.
In another transaction, the Steelers traded former 2014 fourth-round draft pick Martavis Bryant to the Raiders for a 2018 third-round draft pick, one that the Steelers used to move up in that same round to select quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Bryant struggled to make an impact in Oakland. In eight games with the Raiders he made only two starts, catching 19 passes for 266 yards and zero touchdowns before landing on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Bryant was suspended indefinitely by the NFL in December 2018, and he has never applied for reinstatement. Two weeks ago, he signed a contract with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.
How Much Money Will JuJu Smith-Schuster Command as a Free Agent?
For what it’s worth, ESPN’s John Clayton estimates Smith-Schuster’s value at $14 million per year, an enormous raise from the $1,037,151 salary he earned in 2020.
Meanwhile, the above-linked PFF article predicts that the New York Jets will sign Smith-Schuster for four years, $68 million ($17 million APY), with $35 million guaranteed.
Indeed a report from ESPN senior NFL reporter Jeremy Fowler indicates that the Jets have Smith-Schuster at or near the top of their free agent wish list. That’s hardly a surprise, as the Jets have arguably the weakest wide receiver corps in the league. Moreover, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had great success throwing the ball to Smith-Schuster when the two were teammates together in college.
As for the first four years of Smith-Schuster’s professional career, the USC product—Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft (No. 62 overall)—has recorded 308 catches for 3,726 yards and 26 receiving touchdowns. But in the past two years he has produced just 1,383 receiving yards, and in 2020 he averaged a mere 8.6 yards per reception with a long-gainer of 31 yards.
Meanwhile, Smith-Schuster has become one of Pittsburgh’s most popular players, and he has millions of followers across various social media platforms, including 3.4 million on Instagram, 2.9 million on TikTok and 1.1 million on Twitter. He also contributes his time and money to a variety of philanthropic efforts.
But in the second half of the 2020 season, his pre-game logo dances became a distraction to his teammates and coaches and appeared to serve as added motivation for several Pittsburgh opponents, including the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills. Ultimately, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin “had a talk with JuJu,” which put a stop to his pregame logo dancing, despite Smith-Schuster having vowed that he would “not stop being [him]self.”
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