The Pittsburgh Steelers are an organization, especially in the 21st century, that prioritizes rewarding talent when it is within their power to do so. They don’t let a lot of notable free agents walk out the door without a fight, and they tend to have one top-paid wide receiver.
Whether or not JuJu Smith-Schuster is that number one receiver is a question that they have to ask themselves as he approaches unrestricted free agency in March, sitting in a room that also includes Diontae Johnson, who is dynamic but drops a lot of passes, and Chase Claypool, who is perhaps the most physically gifted wide receiver they have ever had.
A 2017 second-round pick, Smith-Schuster started strong, setting a new team rookie record with 917 receiving yards. He caught over 110 passes in his second year for over 1400 yards and made the Pro Bowl, and it looked like he would be off to the races as the next great thing.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the bank, and now we’re really not quite sure how much he will be paid, or even who will be paying him. Complicating things is the question of what the salary cap will be in 2021—among many other factors.
As for the player himself and his thoughts on continuing to play for the Steelers, he said after what could be his last game for the organization, “honestly, I wouldn’t mind, I would love to stay in Pittsburgh. I built a strong foundation and a strong fan base. I love Coach Tomlin and Coach Ike [Hilliard] and everybody I’ve been around. They’ve helped change the way I am, I love the game of football and I would love to do it again”.
The 24 year old caught 97 passes for the Steelers this year, albeit for just 831 yards, but he also tied for the team lead with Claypool with nine receiving touchdowns, which marked a career high. Over the course of his four-year tenure in Pittsburgh, he caught 308 passes for 3726 yards and 26 touchdowns.
The question is, will he catch another pass here? It does seem as though he’s always making a play when people are doubting him. Last night, he caught 13 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown in what was perhaps his best game all season.
Johnson also caught 11 passes for 117 yards, and Claypool caught five passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Even James Washington, who will be going into the final year of his rookie deal in 2021, caught five passes for 72 yards.