Why the Pittsburgh Steelers Can Afford to Move On From Former Pro Bowl Wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster in Free Agency

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have their fair share of interesting decisions to make in the 2022 NFL offseason. What to do with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will be high on that list. The fifth-year wideout will enter the free-agent market once again. However, the Steelers’ front office should strongly consider moving on from Smith-Schuster this time around.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is set to become an unrestricted free agent

JuJu Smith-Schuster has spent the first five seasons of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers after they drafted him in 2017. The second-rounder appears to have loyalty to the franchise that gave him his first shot in the NFL.

Smith-Schuster became a free agent after the 2020 season. AFC foes like the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs tried to poach him from Pittsburgh. Both squads even offered Smith-Schuster more money than the Steelers were willing to give him.

Still, the USC product turned his suitors down. He opted to return to Pittsburgh on a one-year, $8 million contract.

Surely, head coach Mike Tomlin was glad that Smith-Schuster returned instead of joining another AFC contender. However, the 2021 season hasn’t gone as planned for the wideout.

The Long Beach, California native suffered a shoulder injury in Week 5 that landed him on injured reserve and kept him out for the rest of the regular season. According to ESPN, the team opened the 21-day window for Smith-Schuster to return.

It’s unclear if the wide receiver will play in the wild-card matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Why the Steelers don’t need to retain him for 2022

Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster looks on during a game
JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action against the Detroit Lions | Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Whether or not JuJu Smith-Schuster suits up against the Chiefs, his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers could be coming to an end.

The Steelers front office was excited to add a player like Smith-Schuster to the offense. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound wideout enjoyed a productive career at USC. His skills quickly translated to the pro level, and it didn’t take him long to develop a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger.

The former Trojans star recorded 169 receptions, 2,343 receiving yards, and 14 touchdowns across his first two NFL seasons. He earned All-Rookie Team honors in 2017, then made the Pro Bowl the following year.

Pittsburgh parted ways with Antonio Brown after 2018, allowing the young receiver to step into the No. 1 role. The expectations were massive, but Smith-Schuster failed to deliver. He hasn’t posted a 1,000-yard season since 2018. He did catch nine touchdowns in 2020, but that stat doesn’t tell the entire story.

Before going down in Week 5, Smith-Schuster caught just 15 passes for 129 yards and zero touchdowns. The lack of production over the past few seasons is concerning.

Injury aside, the 25-year-old looks like the No. 3 receiver in Pittsburgh, behind Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. It might not be worth bringing Smith-Schuster back in 2022. James Washington will also be a free agent and should carry a much cheaper price tag.

Potential landing spots for the former Pro Bowl WR

If the Pittsburgh Steelers decide to move on from JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency, several teams will likely be lining up for his services. He’s only 25, so there’s time for him to grow. A change of scenery may be necessary, though.

Suppose the former Pro Bowler isn’t in a Steelers uniform in 2022. Where could he land? Here are a few teams who could be interested.

  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • Los Angeles Chargers
  • New England Patriots

Andy Reid and the Chiefs would probably jump at the opportunity to land Smith-Schuster. He rejected them last offseason but would get the chance to play with Patrick Mahomes. Plus, he wouldn’t have the pressure of being the No. 1 option (or No. 2, for that matter).

The Eagles, Chargers, and Patriots have young quarterbacks who can never have enough weapons.

Philadelphia has had a run of bad luck with receivers outside of DeVonta Smith. Smith-Schuster would be a luxury for LA, but he could thrive catching passes from Justin Herbert. The Patriots lack a go-to receiver. Perhaps, he could be that for Mac Jones.

The Steelers could retain JuJu Smith-Schuster, but it would not be surprising to see him elsewhere in 2022.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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