JuJu Smith-Schuster turned down offers from the Chiefs and Ravens to sign a one-year deal to remain with the Steelers last offseason. Ironically, Smith-Schuster faced one of the teams that he turned down in the wild card round of the AFC playoffs. Roughly three months after undergoing shoulder surgery, Smith-Schuster caught five passes in Sunday night's season-ending loss to the Chiefs.
As he is set to enter free agency again, Smith-Schuster expressed his desire to remain in Pittsburgh during his postgame press conference. He again reiterated his desire to re-sign with the Steelers via his Twitter account on Monday.
"I've said it before and have the same stance: I'd love to be Pittsburgh for life," Smith-Schuster wrote. "I hope we can make this happen this offseason and I want to be part of this franchise's return to glory. It's not a matter of if, but when, and I hope I'm wearing the black and gold, celebrating a Super Bowl with these fans, when it happens."
A 2017 second-round pick out of USC, Smith-Schuster quickly burst on to the scene during his rookie season in Pittsburgh. After scoring eight touchdowns during his rookie season, Smith-Schuster set career highs with 111 receptions for 1,426 yards during his second season. In 2020, Smith-Schuster caught a career-high nine touchdowns while helping the Steelers return to the playoffs after a two-year absence. He credited coach Mike Tomlin as one of the main reasons why he decided to stay in Pittsburgh last offseason instead of signing elsewhere.
"I love that man," Smith-Schuster said of Tomlin, who this season set an NFL record by starting his head coaching career with 15 consecutive non-losing seasons. "He was a lot of the reason why I stayed in Pittsburgh for one more year. Playing for a guy like that is someone you want to play for. He's one of those coaches that if you mess up, you don't want him to be disappointed or upset with you because you value him so much. It's kind of like you don't want to bring home bad grades because you don't want to make your parents disappointed because you care about that person so much."
Along with his coach and teammates, Smith-Schuster has built a connection with the city and the Steelers' passionate fan base. He had poured considerable time and energy into giving back to Pittsburgh through his foundation.
"It's just my personality and just being myself," Smith-Schuster said of his close bond with the Pittsburgh community. "Embracing the city, being able to go to Penguins and Pirates games. I've had so many fans come up to me and tell me, 'Hey JuJu, regardless of if you're here next year or you go somewhere else, we'll always support you. We may not wear that colored jersey, but we'll always be JuJu fans.' Stuff like that goes a long way because it means so much. Hopefully, the fans have an impact on where I play next year."
With the Steelers expecting to have about $45 million in cap space, it is certainly possible that Smith-Schuster remains in Pittsburgh. But like last year, Smith-Schuster will likely test the market before making his decision.