As the NFL offseason draws closer to the start of the new league year and the opening of free agency, the prevailing feeling continues to remain that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s time in Pittsburgh is quickly coming to an end.
After signing a one-year, $8 million deal with the Steelers in surprising fashion in 2021 that had four voidable years tacked onto the end of the contract, Smith-Schuster ended up getting hurt just five weeks into the season, landing on injured reserve while undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
However, Smith-Schuster showed a lot of resolve and commitment to the Steelers, battling back to return for the Wild Card Round, defying expectations overall in his return to action.
God answered my prayers & I’ve recovered from my season-ending shoulder injury earlier than expected. I can’t believe I get another chance to take the field with this team and play in a playoff game to keep our season alive. Steelers Nation, #HereWeGo! pic.twitter.com/SdAKl3SrYx
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) January 15, 2022
Despite that late glimpse the Steelers were able to get at him post-shoulder injury, it is still unlikely that Pittsburgh — in a transition year at quarterback — will give Smith-Schuster the type of deal he’s eyeing in free agency.
That leaves a certain team in the AFC East a window of opportunity, as Pro Football Focus predicts that JuJu Smith-Schuster will sign with the New England Patriots in free agency on a one-year, $8 million deal with $6.25 million guaranteed, which is a very similar deal he signed last offseason, allowing him to pair with Mac Jones in Foxboro, rather than another year of Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins, or another street free agent under center in the black and gold.
Currently, Smith-Schuster sits at No. 42 overall in PFF’s top 50 free agent rankings.
“Smith-Schuster turned down a multi-year deal with the Chiefs last offseason then proceeded to get injured early in the 2021 season. Thus, it’ll probably be tough for him to get a multi-year deal on the market for the value he wants,” PFF’s Arjun Menon writes. “He’s still only 25 years old and has logged five years in the league, so he will still be an attractive option for WR needy teams.
“One of those teams should be the Patriots, who need to get Mac Jones more weapons. Smith-Schuster can serve as a reliable receiver out of the slot for New England.”
There’s no denying the talent and playmaking ability Smith-Schuster will bring to any offense, especially out of the slot. He’s not the game’s best route runner, but he’s as reliable as they come on third downs and over the middle, picking up the tough yardage when the team needs it most.
One of the rudest stiff arms I've seen in a while, courtesy of JuJu Smith-Schuster pic.twitter.com/uLRP1BIGDy
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) September 24, 2020
Adding a guy like Smith-Schuster would give the Patriots a solid No. 2-type receiver for Jones, who spent much of his rookie season throwing to guys like Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne at wide receiver. Smith-Schuster certainly fits the Bill Belichick mold of a smart, physical football player that puts it all on the line.
Any team that lands Smith-Schuster on a contract like the one PFF is proposing would make for an impressive bargain overall, assuming his usage changes compared to the last two seasons in Pittsburgh.