Despite the fact he’s due to miss the majority of the 2021 season, one particular Pittsburgh Steelers receiver may get paid this offseason.
According to Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon, Juju Smith-Schuster — who is likely out for the season due to a dislocated shoulder — is one of several free agents “most likely” to be overpaid this offseason.
“At the time, he joked that you’d need a wrecking ball to get him out of Pittsburgh, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll keep offering massive hometown discounts,” says Gagnon. “The soon-to-be 25-year-old eventually needs to cash in on his early-career success. But any team that signs him to a big-money, long-term deal might regret it.”
“Not only is Smith-Schuster recovering from a significant shoulder injury, but it seems as though he peaked early in his career,” Gagnon continues. “He put up 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore in 2018, but he hasn’t been close to as effective since then due to injuries and a lack of overall consistency. Some team will be desperate enough to look past all of his recent issues, including those related to him being a potential distraction, and focus on his early-career numbers. But that might wind up being a mistake.”
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Why Steelers May Not Break the Bank for Smith-Schuster
The former second-round draft pick signed a one-year deal last offseason. But as he enters what should be the prime of his career, it’s likely that the former 1,000-yard receiver seeks a long-term deal — whether that’s in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.
The Steelers currently possess a trio of receivers that the Steelers utilize in their short-passing offense — Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson.
However, there are major question marks surrounding the future of the Steelers based upon the future of Ben Roethlisberger. Furthermore, Claypool is under contract for another two years while Johnson is under contract through the 2022 season.
In other words, the Steelers won’t break the bank for a receiver who has failed to establish himself as a clear-cut No. 1 receiver following the departure of Antonio Brown in 2019. Since Brown’s departure, Smith-Schuster has caught just 154 passes for 1,512 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in 33 games.
In roughly two seasons of work, that equates to just 77 receptions for 756 receiving yards and six touchdowns per season.
After peaking at a receiving grade of 81.8 (according to Pro Football Focus) during the 2018 season, the former Pro Bowler has yet to come anywhere close to replicating that performance. Smith-Schuster posted receiving grades of 63.1 in 2019, 68.2 in 2020 and 59.2 (in five appearances) during the 2021 season.
If the Steelers are forced to get into a bidding war with another team in the free agency market, it’s more likely Pittsburgh simply allows the fifth-year receiver to walk, rather than overpay to keep him.
Would Big Ben Play for Another Team?
As far as Roethlisberger is concerned, there’s also uncertainty whether or not the Steelers legend will return to Pittsburgh for the 2022 season.
The 39-year-old is currently under a one-year deal and has yet to make a decision on whether or not he’ll continue his playing career. If Roethlisberger chooses to continue playing and the Steelers opt to move in a different direction, the two-time Super Bowl champion could find himself playing for another team.
According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, Roethlisberger could serve as a “bridge” quarterback for teams such as the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks or Green Bay Packers.
“Roethlisberger, who turns 40 in March, could retire and remove himself from this list,” says Howe. “But if he’s got the itch to play and the Steelers make the hard decision to part ways with the franchise icon, Roethlisberger could help a ready-made contender like the Saints or work as a bridge quarterback in Green Bay or Seattle if either team trades their star signal caller.”
If the Steelers make another playoff run this year with Roethlisberger at quarterback, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Pittsburgh brings back their quarterback for a 19th season.
However, if the Steelers miss the postseason and Roethlisberger yearns for another shot at a Super Bowl, he could finish his career elsewhere.