Earlier this week, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited sources in claiming that free-agent-to-be wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers would like to play in a larger market in which he could more easily expand his brand.
I wrote about it this morning, and it appears to have now been picked up by the broader media, with Pat McAfee discussing is on his show. “JuJu came out and said he wants to play in a major market to build his brand”, McAfee said. “Allegedly”, he quickly added, “these are leaks coming”.
He went on to mention the New York Jets because of his prior relationship with quarterback Sam Darnold, with whom he played at USC, and added that he could see him wanting to get back to Los Angeles, where both the Rams and Chargers are based.
“I do know TikTok will be waiting with baited breath”, he quipped.
But Smith-Schuster was quick to come out and deny it, posting on Twitter, “sources tell me this is completely 100% false lol”. The 24-year old has spent the entirety of his four-year NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers since they selected him in the second round in 2017.
Sources tell me this is completely 100% false lol https://t.co/720GEWszRC
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) January 13, 2021
Many fans were surprised or even disappointed with the selection at the time, but he had a great rookie season and then made the Pro Bowl in 2018. The last two years haven’t been such an upward trajectory for him, in part due to injuries and in part due to blowback from some of his social media and media in general behavior.
Despite what some Steelers fans may choose to believe, Smith-Schuster is in line to make a significant amount of money this season north of $15 million per season on average, which is roughly the going rate of what similar wide receivers at his production level have gathered over the past two offseasons.
While the team would likely want to bring him back, the salary cap realities make that difficult, and they also still have James Washington, Diontae Johnson, and 2020 rookie star Chase Claypool at the position, with arguably much more pressing needs elsewhere.
Smith-Schuster has never said anything but positive things about his time in Pittsburgh and with his teammates, particularly toward quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who, at least as of now, is under contract for the 2021 season and expected to return.
The next couple of months will feature a flurry of speculation and reports, as is par for the course for the offseason, but it is inevitable that the Steelers are going to lose a number of free agents this year. Will Smith-Schuster be one of them, and if so, where will he land? We’ll have to wait and see, but for now, he denies the notion that he is looking to expand into a larger media market.