Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster practiced twice, on Thursday and Friday, for the first time since injuring his shoulder in October. He then played in and started Sunday’s game for the Pittsburgh Steelers after being activated from the Reserve/Injured List.
It was a surprise that he returned this week after the Steelers qualified for the postseason, and his presence did help, though ultimately did not make a huge difference. He caught five passes on eight targets during the game for all of 26 yards. He did record the team’s first first down of the game, which took rather a while.
The fifth-year veteran signed a one-year, $8 million contract to stay in Pittsburgh last offseason. He had a couple of nominally better offers from other teams, but none were robust, and only one was reported to be a multi-year offer.
When asked why he came back to Pittsburgh, though, what he talked about was playing with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for one final season. And while he reiterated in his postgame comments last night that he would still like to stay with the Steelers, he also acknowledged that there are football factors that will weigh in his decision—like who will be throwing the ball.
“Obviously”, Smith-Schuster said, when he was asked how much the quarterback position comes into play in the decision he will have to make a couple months from now. “We have Mason Rudolph, we have Dwayne Haskins. We have guys. You just never know. Obviously it’s going to be in the talk with Coach Tomlin, the OC, and everyone. It’s a very important thing”.
Among the teams to have reportedly offered him contracts last March were the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens, two teams boasting young MVPs at quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. The former has his team gunning for another Super Bowl, while the latter watched his team completely tank down the stretch without him, falling from the top seed to out of the playoffs altogether.
Unless he decides to wait, Smith-Schuster probably won’t have a good feel for who the Steelers’ next quarterback will be in time for free agency. Rudolph is pretty much the starting point, but they could potentially pursue a modest veteran signing. More recently, talk of drafting a quarterback such as Kenny Pickett has picked up.
He could, in theory, wait until after the draft to decide whether or not to re-sign with the Steelers. Given how the past couple of seasons have gone, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll have a very robust market, anyway, so it may not impact him much financially if he wants to wait and see if Pittsburgh drafts a quarterback.