JuJu Smith-Schuster has -- on multiple occasions -- expressed his love for Pittsburgh, the Steelers and his desire to continue his legacy with the black and gold. Smith-Schuster's feelings for Pittsburgh and the Steelers is mutual, as the receiver has been a fan favorite since his breakout rookie campaign.
With an unlimited cap, Smith-Schuster and the Steelers would come to terms on a multiyear contract. But in reality, Smith-Schuster staying in Pittsburgh is difficult, considering his expected market value and the team's cap limitations. For his part, Smith-Schuster has said that he is not looking to make his market value, which according to Spotrac is roughy $16.1 million per season. Smith-Schuster said that he wants to be paid a reasonable price for what he brings to a team. He added that he is also looking to join a team that annually competes for championships. Lastly, he is hoping to join a team that has a franchise quarterback.
With the start of free agency just around the corner, let's take a look at Smith-Schuster's most likely landing spots. We'll also offer a scouting report while providing news and notes regarding the wide receiver's future.
Top landing spots
- Las Vegas Raiders: The Raiders are "very interested" in signing Smith-Schuster, ESPN Radio host John Clayton told 93.7 'The Fan' in early February. The Raiders have other needs, but Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock would be wise to give Derek Carr a veteran receiver, especially if Nelson Agholor departs in free agency. Smith-Schuster would be a valuable addition to a Raiders receiving corps that includes Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller and receivers Hunter Renfrow and Henry Ruggs III.
- Los Angeles Chargers: Unless they plan on keeping Mike Williams long term, it would make sense for the Chargers to sign a new receiver and trade Williams. Instead of paying Williams over $15 million in 2021 and possibly losing him in 2022, the Chargers could sign another veteran wideout while receiving assets for Williams. A Los Angeles native, Smith-Schuster would be part of an explosive offense that includes Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen, running back Austin Ekeler and reigning Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert.
- New York Jets: Smith-Schuster is close with Sam Darnold. The two helped lead USC to a Rose Bowl win over Penn State before beginning their NFL careers. The Jets have not been a contender in years, but there is some optimism in New York after the hiring of Robert Saleh, who in 2019 helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl as the team's defensive coordinator. In New York, Smith-Schuster would play in the country's biggest market.
- New England Patriots: Bill Belichick loves versatile, hard-working players who prioritize winning over everything else. Smith-Schuster's fun-loving personality belies an intense competitor who once played in a game in college five days after breaking his hand. The Patriots typically don't break the bank in free agency, but considering Smith-Schuster's unique skillset along with the fact that he is not necessarily looking to receive market value makes this a possibility.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers would surely love to keep him but, as alluded to above, their salary cap situation makes this tricky. Pittsburgh would have some flexibility if they allow Bud Dupree and several other free agents to sign with new clubs. That being said, the Steelers have to think big picture. Diontae Johnson, the team's leading receiver last season, is halfway through his rookie deal. The team also has to set aside future money for Chase Claypool, who scored 11 total touchdowns in 2020. It's not likely, but the Steelers could decide to franchise tag Smith-Schuster, giving Ben Roethlisberger each of his top-three receivers in what could be his final NFL season.
Pros: Smith-Schuster won't turn 25 until the second half of the 2021 season. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Smith-Schuster is a physical receiver who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. He has very good hands, as he caught nearly 76% of the passes thrown to him in 2020. With Antonio Brown as his teammate for two seasons, Smith-Schuster caught 14 touchdowns and averaged nearly 14 yards per catch. He caught two 97-yard touchdowns and was named the Steelers' team MVP in 2018. Last season, Smith-Schuster caught 97 passes while serving as Ben Roethlisberger's No. 1 option. He is an intense competitor and a valued leader within the Steelers' receivers room.
Cons: There are questions about Smith-Schuster's effectiveness as a No. 1 receiver. He was productive last season, but he did not put up the same numbers as he did with Brown as his teammate. He averaged a career-low 8.6 yards per catch last season, but part of that was due to the Steelers' up-tempo, quick passing attack. Offensive game plan aside, the fact that Smith-Schuster's longest play last season was just 31 yards is cause for concern. He's had just one 100-yard game over the past two years after having 11 such games during his first two seasons in Pittsburgh.
News and notes
- March 13: The Steelers would like to keep Smith-Schuster and have reached out to his representatives. Smith-Schuster penned an emotional message to Steelers fans Sunday afternoon.
- February 24: When asked whether or not he would like to continue his career in Los Angeles, Smith-Schuster once again reiterated his desire to remain in Pittsburgh. "At the end of the day, I want to have my legacy in Pittsburgh and retire there," Smith-Schuster told TMZ Sports. "I don't want to leave."
- February 18: Smith-Schuster, during an appearance on the Yinzhers Podcast, reaffirmed his desire to stay with the Steelers. And while the team has not publicly ruled out re-signing Smith-Schuster, it appears that finding a way to keep Dupree in Pittsburgh is a higher priority. "We'd love to be able to keep a Bud Dupree," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Bud is a special player, and Bud and T.J. (Watt) together is a special group."
- January 21: Steelers president Art Rooney II, during his annual offseason meetings with reporters, was non-committal about Smith-Schuster's future with the franchise. "Obviously we still think highly of JuJu and still think he's going to be an outstanding player in the league moving forward ... (but) we will address the contract situation when it's appropriate."