Will the Pittsburgh Steelers lose JuJu Smith-Schuster to free agency in the coming weeks? That’s a big question we’ll have answered very soon as March 17 is now right around the corner. If it were up to Hall of Famer and former Steelers defensive back Rod Woodson, he would probably let Smith-Schuster ride off to the highest bidder this offseason.
On Monday, Woodson was a guest on 93.7 The Fan and he was asked if he thinks the Steelers should re-sign Smith-Schuster this offseason.
“It depends on what the big money is,” Woodson said.
When asked if $16 million or more a season made a difference, Woodson didn’t hesitate to give a response.
“I would not,” Woodson. “And I love JuJu. And I love his personality. I love how friendly he is and how approachable he is in the community, but I just don’t know if JuJu’s that number one like that. You know, I mean, if you’re giving him $16 million, you’re saying JuJu is your number one receiver and I don’t know if he’s that number one receiver. And I think there’s a lot of money to be spent that needs to be spent for the Steelers when you have so many free agents and it’s going to come down to, can [Diontae] Johnson, can [Chase] Claypool, can [James] Washington, can those guys hold up on their own? I think they can.”
Woodson went on to talk some about fellow Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool and why having him in the fold could possibly help lessen the loss of Smith-Schuster this offseason.
“I think Claypool, even though he went to Notre Dame, and it’s hard for me to talk really good about Notre Dame players, but he’s wearing black and gold now so I can talk well about him, he’s a player and he’s going to learn, he’s going to get better,” Woodson said. “And I can’t say he’s going to do the same thing he did last year, because you would think he’s going to keep getting better and get better and better.”
After spending a moment talking about Claypool, Woodson went back to talking more about Smith-Schuster and how the Steelers should probably let him ride off in free agency this offseason and why.
“Ben [Roethlisberger], eventually he’s going to retire and then you’re going to have to find another quarterback to throw the ball down to the receivers,” Woodson explained. “But I think JuJu, he’s going to get a big contract from somebody else. I think somebody else is going to overpay him because I don’t think he’s a true route-running receiver. And what I mean by that is that I don’t think he can run every route on the route tree.
“And if you look at what the Steelers did to him, at least what I have seen from that, is they moved JuJu from – he ran deep over routes all the time, which that’s what makes him good because he is a big-bodied receiver. He can make contested catches throughout the game. That is a good thing and that’s something that’s very valuable to football teams.”
While Smith-Schuster did lead the Steelers in receptions in 2020 with 97 of them for 831 yards and nine touchdowns, the former second-round selection out of USC averaged just 8.6 yards per catch and had to earn a lot of his yards after making the reception. While it was probably by design, Smith-Schuster didn’t run a lot of deeper routes last season and his route charts looked more like a running back than they did a number one wide receiver.
After the Steelers parted ways with wide receiver Antonio Brown at the end of the 2018 season, there’s constantly been talk about whether or not Smith-Schuster could take over as the team’s number one wide receiver. For obvious reasons, Smith-Schuster’s 2019 season was awfully hard to judge as not only did the Steelers lose quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the year to an elbow injury just six quarters into the season, but the young wide receiver also missed several games of his own due to injuries.
As noted, last season Smith-Schuster had a ton of catches but not a lot of receiving yards to show for them. Was that Roethlisberger’s fault? Was it Smith-Schuster’s fault? Was it the fault of now-former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner? Was it the fault of all of them combined? Will we get a chance to see Smith-Schuster in an offense run by new offensive coordinator Matt Canada in 2021? We should at least get our answer to that last question in the next nine or 10 days.
Regardless, of what the answer to that last question winds up being, it’s obvious that Woodson doesn’t believe that the Steelers should be the ones to invest big money in Smith-Schuster this offseason and especially with the other three wide receivers they would be left with on their depth chart in Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and James Washington.
“I don’t know if I would spend that much money on him when you have a couple guys, or three other players in your backend that I think can take up the slack,” Woodson said.