The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this offseason with 19 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. To date, they have managed to retain five of them so far, and they have lost four, while also losing a player who was a restricted free agent, not to mention multiple cuts and retirements.
By far the marquee move was the retention of wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the 24-year-old Pro Bowler who, despite being the second-youngest player at his position, has become the leader of the group, and something of a young leader of the offense. While the team has consistently drafted for the position and drafted well, it was a priority for them to be able to keep him, president Art Rooney II said earlier today with Steelers Nation Unite members.
JuJu was an important part of our offense last year, and has been for the last few years. We were certainly hopeful that we would be able to sign JuJu back. You never know when you hit free agency how it’s gonna go, but the one thing about JuJu is he really wanted to come back. That certainly helped a lot, and I’m glad we got him back, and look forward to him having another good year for us in 2021.
According to reports, he signed a one-year deal worth $8 million to re-sign with the Steelers, though he is said to have had other offers on the table that, with incentives, were worth up to $11 million and $13 million with the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, respectively. The Philadelphia Eagles also reportedly offered him a multi-year deal worth more per year than what he re-signed for.
A second-round pick in 2017, Smith-Schuster made a near-instant impact. I say near-instant because he actually was not targeted in his first game, despite seeing a fair amount of playing time, but he caught his first touchdown a week later, and set a team rookie record with 917 receiving yards on the season.
Over the course of his first four seasons, he would field 308 passes for 3726 yards and 26 touchdowns. Of those who came into the league since 2017, he ranks fourth in receptions, second in receiving yards, and tied for first in receiving touchdowns.
His best season came in year two in 2018, during which he caught 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns, reaching the Pro Bowl. The following year, Ben Roethlisberger missed most of the season, and he himself battled injuries throughout, missing four games, which decimated his impact.
The 2020 season saw him settling into more of a tight end route tree, as reflected by his 5.5-yard average depth of target. While he still caught 97 passes, and scored a career-high nine touchdowns, that only accounted for 831 yards. The Steelers had better find ways to start getting him the ball further afield again.