The return of JuJu Smith-Schuster to the Pittsburgh Steelers was one of the less-expected moves of the offseason for the franchise. Spurred by loyalty to many people and the overall community, Smith-Schuster signed a one-year, $8 million deal for another season in Pittsburgh.
One of the reasons he returned is a final season with Ben Roethlisberger as his quarterback. It’s final because of the expected retirement of Roethlisberger following the 2021 season. But another reason is, with a reduced salary cap as a result of the effects of COVID-19, big-money deals didn’t materialize for players expected to receive them as free agents this offseason. With an expected larger cap and much more money available to spend league-wide next offseason, Smith-Schuster will have a chance to be a free agent once again, after another season with Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh.
Unsurprisingly, he is ready to chase that bigger contract, speaking about that with the media during an OTA media session Wednesday.
“I thought everything with how it happened this year was kind of different, with the cap being low and everything. So next year is obviously a year, the cap will be so much better, it’s a much bigger year, and knowing that I’ll be on the market again, and knowing that every team that would want to offer something on the table to what my value is. At the end of the day, this year, I just got to go out there and ball out, do what I gotta do and put stuff on tape to make my value even better.”
Viewing his new deal as a “one-year thing” with the Steelers, Smith-Schuster is chasing a contract less like the $8-9 million deals offered by the Steelers, Kansas City, and Baltimore this offseason, and more like the four-year, $72 million deal Kenny Golladay got as a free agent this year from the New York Giants. Golladay was the only free agent receiver to cash in this offseason on a deal of four or more years, as teams tightened their wallets with less money to play with.
Players like Smith-Schuster and Will Fuller (going from Houston to Miami), normally ticketed for big-time deals as productive receivers with plenty of seasons left, settled for lesser, shorter contracts, something that happened at other positions this offseason but was most notable at receiver. It was an effect of a pandemic with unprecedented impacts on professional sports. Smith-Schuster understands that, and is ready to hit a more normal market again next offseason after a one-year anomaly led to a return to Pittsburgh.
“I wasn’t surprised at all. It [the market] was very low this year. I prefer and once again I think a one-year deal is just better, and then going back out on to the market again and hitting it for a bigger prize.”