Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has become one of the most divisive figures in Pittsburgh over the course of the past year or two. Anointed as something like the next great superstar for the Steelers during his first two years, the lack of high-volume production over the past two seasons and some off-field social media and personality choices have led some to feel that the team would be better off without him.
That won’t happen for at least another year, however, as he re-signed with the Steelers on a one-year, $8 million deal, and at least publicly, it doesn’t appear as though any of his teammates were a part of that group that would have rather seen him gone.
Alex Highsmith, who figures to be one of the team’s newest full-time starters in 2021 on the defensive side of the ball, was asked about Smith-Schuster’s re-signing and what that means not just for the offense, but the team overall, during a radio interview on Mad Dog Radio on SiriusXM yesterday.
“JuJu’s great. He’s been a face of this franchise for the past couple years and he’s a great teammate”, the second-year edge rusher said. “Whenever we got the news that he was coming back, I think we all got excited, because he means a lot to this team. He’s a very valuable asset to this team. I’m just excited that he’s gonna be able to come back to be another threat in the receiving game. It’s just gonna be exciting to have him back and just to see what he can do again this year”.
Smith-Schuster came under scrutiny multiple times just during the 2020 season alone, most notably for his decision to take his TikToking onto the football field, during which he would have fellow wide receiver Chase Claypool record him dancing on the logos at center field of the stadiums in which the Steelers were set to play, occurring during pre-game warmups.
While many viewed this act as disrespectful, the primary frustration seemed to be that it would fuel their opponents to play harder, and delt that there is never any good reason for giving others motivation to best you.
Toward the end of the season, when asked to comment on the development of the Cleveland Browns since even last season, he remarked that “the Browns is the Browns”, which became something of a slogan in Cleveland, one that players freely and excitedly adopted, especially after the Browns defeated the Steelers in the postseason.
Since the end of the year, many have found his approach to free agency distasteful, including ribbing fans by live streaming himself playing video games in other teams’ uniforms, all the while giving interviews in which he stated clearly that he wanted to stay in Pittsburgh if it was in the cards.
It turned out that the shuffling of the deck allowed for that to occur, and Smith-Schuster’s teammates are excited to have him back, but if the last several months have shown us anything, he’ll have to put in some effort to win back some of the fans he’s lost.