Steelers News

Ben Roethlisberger ‘Sick To My Stomach’ Over JuJu Smith-Schuster Injury, Personally And Professionally

One of the deciding factors that led wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021 after the free-agent market caved in was for the opportunity to play with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger again. According to Roethlisberger, the opportunity to continue to play with Smith-Schuster is one of the things that has kept him coming back for more.

It’s a fair question to ask if they will ever play together again now, with Smith-Schuster’s season over due to a shoulder injury, set to hit the free agent market again. Indeed, neither may be in a Steelers uniform after the 2021 season, with Roethlisberger not under contract and set to turn 40. All of that just makes the current circumstances sting that much more.

“It stinks. For JuJu, for all of us” Roethlisberger said as part of the Different series on YouTube from Rep 1 Football. “Even for me selfishly, I want to be out there with that guy. If this is it for me, which I don’t know if it is, but if it is, I want to do it with him. He was one of the things I was excited about coming back for, because he’s a guy that I’ve been with the longest of all the offensive guys, and a guy that just loves the game of football. He’s a competitor”.

Originally drafted in the second round in 2017, Smith-Schuster a near-immediate impact player, and was a Pro Bowler by his second season, though his career, paralleling injuries to himself and to Roethlisberger, never continued that particular trajectory. But that doesn’t take away what he does from play to play, or the work that he puts in.

“You can say what you want about the off-the-field, the TikToks and the Twitters and all the stuff that he does, but when that man steps on the football field or steps in the building to do his job, he does it with a fire and a passion and a love for the game, for his teammates”, Roethlisberger said. “You never questioned it. You never questioned his heart and his desire, his preparation”.

Smith-Schuster has been a mainstay in the slot for most of his career, where Roethlisberger would ask much of him in terms of expecting to create yards after the catch on shallow throws, often producing third-down conversions on targets in front of the sticks.

“He was a comfort blanket for me. I’m gonna miss that”, the quarterback said. “We’re gonna miss the toughness. His joy. I mean, he just brought joy to the game. And he had fun doing it. He’s tough. He texted me, ‘I’m sorry’, and I’m like, ‘what are you apologizing for?’. The only thing I could think of is he tried to be a tough guy and he tried to run someone over, which is what he does, and it didn’t work this time”.

Beyond the impact that he had on the offense as a physical slot presence, who would often do the dirty work, and reliably, that others were not asked to do, Smith-Schuster is one of the most beloved players in the locker room because of the energy that he brings. And that makes it all the more painful for his teammates, understanding the career situation he’s in.

“It was devastating on all of us, but on him, I mean, a contract year”, Roethlisberger said. “I feel awful for him. I’m sick to my stomach for him. Yeah, I’m selfishly mad because I want him to be out there for me because he’s such a good football player. But I feel so bad for him, just because I know what he’s put into this. It’s just tough”.

The bad news is that Smith-Schuster hasn’t had a statistically potent season in years, and frankly, we’ve seen how the market reflected that in March. The good news is that he’ll still be just 25 years old, and the market will have bounced back, considerably. Even given his injury and production, he should still fetch a decent, possibly short-term contract in another football city five months from now.

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