Lots of players talk to talk. Not many of them walk the walk. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster did, taking less money to stay with the Pittsburgh Steelers for at least another season. For a guy to do to that, he has to have a good reason. Smith-Schuster had two. Ben Roethlisberger’s return and his relationship with WRs Coach Ike Hilliard. He had a lengthy conversation with Michael Irvin on Irvin’s podcast to discuss his decision.
“With me, it was staying home, staying loyal,” he told Irvin on his podcast. “We have a new OC, Ben’s coming back, my relationship with my WRs coach Ike Hilliard is amazing. So you can’t beat that.”
Smith-Schuster went on to say Roethlisberger kept in constant contact with him throughout free agency. Smith-Schuster’s market was cooler than expected and it took him several days to sign.
“He called me multiple times. We exchanged texts. [He’d say] ‘Hey man, whatever you do, before you sign it, call me.’ I always told him before I signed anywhere, I was going to let him know. Multiple times, I talked to him like, hey Ben, this is what I’m thinking, this is the best option for me. We talked about it, we weighed the pros and cons of both sides. Obviously being home with the Steelers is the best and just ideal for me.”
Smith-Schuster ultimately signed a one-year, $8 million deal, turning down larger contracts from the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. As we wrote about, those teams made strong pushes to bring him in. But Smith-Schuster knew staying in a familiar place like Pittsburgh was best for him, short and long-term.
“Being somewhere in an atmosphere and environment, where the team knows you. They know your history, how you are, how to use you and stuff like that.”
Smith-Schuster will look to be used a little differently in 2021. Last year, he was basically a running back, running a short, safety valve/hot read route tree, and averaging well under nine yards per catch. Statistically, it was one of the least efficient seasons in NFL history, though he made clutch catch after clutch catch on third down and in the red zone. With new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, the Steelers will hopefully work Smith-Schuster more vertically as they did throughout the first three years of his career. After all, this is a guy with a pair of 97-yard touchdowns on his resume.