JuJu Smith-Schuster Turned Down a $1.5 Million Raise to Stay with the Pittsburgh Steelers

JuJu Smith-Schuster has spent his entire career as a Pittsburgh Steeler, and it looks like he’ll spend at least one more season as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Those in Pittsburgh seemed resigned to the fact that he would be leaving. Yet despite multiple offers from other teams, the Pro Bowl wide receiver has chosen to stay with Pittsburgh in one of the most surprising free agency moves of the NFL offseason.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have brought back JuJu Smith-Schuster

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CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora broke the news Friday afternoon that the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Smith-Schuster to a one-year deal worth $8 million. The deal ensures that Smith-Schuster will play at least one more season on Pittsburgh alongside quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Earlier this month, the 39-year-old quarterback signed a similar one-year extension.

Last season, Smith-Schuster caught 97 passes for 831 yards and nine touchdowns.

Smith-Schuster later confirmed the news himself through his Twitter. “This is my home, they’re gonna need a wrecking ball to take me outta here! PITTSBURGH LOVE YOU, LET’S GO!!!!!” Smith-Schuster tweeted, along with a clip from the movie The Wolf of Wall Street.

This is a stark contrast to comments that Smith-Schuster made in the weeks leading up to this signing. Earlier this month, in a Twitter poll that asked “Will JuJu stay in Pittsburgh?”, JuJu himself voted for the option, “I hope that’s a negative.” Even the Steelers’ official website gave up all hope of him returning.

JuJu Smith-Schuster took a pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh

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Making this signing even more unlikely is the Steelers’ previously-dire cap situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has shrunk the NFL’s salary cap, forcing the team to let players such as Bud Dupree and Tyson Alualu walk. Even Roethlisberger’s new contract came about as a result of lengthy negotiation and compromise.

Smith-Schuster is a former Pro Bowl receiver. 2018 was his breakout NFL season, thanks to the sudden absence of former number-one receiver Antonio Brown. That season, JuJu caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. His production hasn’t quite reached that level since, but several NFL teams were interested in him.

In fact, those teams were willing to offer more than the Steelers. According to La Canfora, the division rival Baltimore Ravens offered Smith-Schuster a $9.5 million contract that included $3.5 million worth of incentives. Quarterback Lamar Jackson even tried to woo the wide receiver to the Ravens personally by taking part in negotiations.

The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles also made handsome offers, while reports from earlier on Friday indicated that he was in talks with the New York Jets.

JuJu and Big Ben have unfinished business in 2021

Pittsburgh Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster warms up
JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh | Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Perhaps Smith-Schuster opted to stay put because he expected bigger offers than the ones he got. However, it’s much more likely that both Smith-Schuster and Roethlisberger’s decisions to stay in Pittsburgh and spurn other offers are motivated in part by how the Steelers’ 2020 season ended.

Through the first 12 weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked unstoppable. They weren’t the best team in football, and the stats certainly showed it, but the goose egg in the loss column was the most important stat of all. They just found ways to win, and if they kept on doing that, they’d have home-field advantage locked up.

Needless to say, they did not do that. In just over a month, they went from the NFL’s last unbeaten team to being embarrassed at home in the wild-card round by the Browns. Even though Ben Roethlisberger already has two Super Bowl wins to his name, he’s probably still bitter over how last season ended.

JuJu, who doesn’t have a ring at all, has to be even more bitter.

Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.