The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex earlier than they had anticipated, having been ousted from the postseason in the opening round, which unfortunately marks the fifth consecutive season in which they failed to win a postseason game—a new record for the franchise since the merger. Yet again, they find themselves undergoing the exit meeting process earlier than anticipated, which means so are we.
The Steelers did arguably perform at or above expectations this year by going 9-7-1 and making the postseason at all, a reflection of just how much talent they lost during the offseason, from the majority of the offensive line to Mike Hilton, Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Vince Williams—not to mention Stephon Tuitt, essentially.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between head coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2021 season.
Player: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Experience: 5 Years
It may seem a bit perplexing to see JuJu Smith-Schuster being covered in this column so far down the list, but the fact that he missed the majority of the season led me to decide not to include any one specific ‘third’ wide receiver in the initial group of starters. I ended up including fullback Derek Watt, frankly, just so I don’t forget about him.
So anyway, here we are talking about Smith-Schuster, the guy who three years ago was going to be the next great thing in Pittsburgh, coming off of a stellar sophomore year that saw him top 100 receptions and over 1400 receiving yards, named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
While statistics are far too simplified to tell the full story, in the three years since then, he has caught 154 passes on 226 targets for 1512 yards with 12 touchdowns in 33 games. While he has caught over 68 percent of his targets, he has only picked up 6.7 yards per target. He also has four fumbles during that time.
Entering free agency last offseason, Smith-Schuster agreed to return to Pittsburgh on a one-year, $8 million deal to play one more season with Ben Roethlisberger. Due to a shoulder injury, that time was limited to five games in the regular season, during which he caught all of 15 passes for 129 yards. His only touchdown was on a run.
As you surely know, he did manage to return for the postseason, surprising most people, I would imagine. He caught five passes in that game for 26 yards, three of which went for first downs. He’ll be a free agent again this offseason.
The 25-year-old didn’t draw a lot of attention to himself over the course of the season as he had managed to a year earlier, though perhaps being on the sideline most of that time helped. On the field, however, he was always the same player, a physical and sure-handed target who knows how to work the middle of the field.