On March 19, a surprise came across the news wire for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, long presumed to be leaving Pittsburgh as a high-priced free agent, had re-signed with the team on a one-year contract. It was a surprise that became more and more possible as a reduced salary cap limited the number of big free agent deals that were made this offseason.
Smith-Schuster was not without his other suitors. The Baltimore Ravens attempted to bring him in, and offered more money on a one-year deal than the $8 million the Steelers offered. Another team offered more than $8 million, as well: 2020 Super Bowl champion Kansas City. KC also offered the chance to play with Patrick Mahomes, the best quarterback in football.
Even with all that on the table, something drove Smith-Schuster back to the Steelers for another season. He addressed it on Wednesday in a media session following OTAs.
“For me, I think it was more so the loyalty, staying with my quarterback I’ve been playing with for the past four years. The fact that he’s coming back for one more year and the fact that I can have that potential for a one-year deal,” Smith-Schuster said. “Don’t get me wrong, Patrick Mahomes is a great quarterback, and he will be for the next decade. But I think it was just a loyalty to my coaches, to my receiving coach, and to my quarterback.”
That loyalty caused Smith-Schuster to pass on $3 million in incentives on top of the $8 million salary that Kansas City offered him to come join Mahomes and chase a Super Bowl. In what is likely Ben Roethlisberger’s final season as the Steelers’ quarterback, JuJu elected to play one final year with the passer who helped him make a Pro Bowl and win the team’s MVP award in 2018, solidifying him as a young star receiver in the NFL.
In the three seasons the two have played together (ignoring 2019 when Roethlisberger missed all but two games with an injury), Smith-Schuster has caught 266 passes for 3,174 yards and 23 touchdowns. Twice, he has reached 97 or more receptions in a season, and his numbers peaked with 111 catches for 1,426 yards in 2018. He has reached seven touchdowns in every season with Roethlisberger.
It was also loyalty to the organization, the Pittsburgh community and fans, and Smith-Schuster’s coaches, as he mentioned in his answer. Among those are head coach Mike Tomlin and receivers coach Ike Hilliard, who took over last season after the tragic passing of JuJu’s prior position coach, Darryl Drake.