In the days before free agency, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster made it clear publicly and privately that his time in Pittsburgh was ending, even though he wanted to stay. Then, something happened.
More accurately, nothing happened. Smith-Schuster didn’t get the offers he thought he’d get in free agency. That resulted in, eventually, a two-team tug-of-war for his services, with the Ravens ($9 million on a one-year deal with incentives) and the Steelers ($8 million) trying to land him. (The Chiefs made a late run that never got off the ground.)
That was enough for Smith-Schuster to not trade black and yellow for black and purple (and periodic tan pants). Team president Art Rooney II was pleased with the outcome.
“JuJu was an important part of our offense last year and has been for the last few years,” Rooney said in a recent call with fans. “We were certainly hopeful that we would be able to sign JuJu back. The one thing about JuJu is he really wanted to come back and that certainly helped a lot. I’m glad we got him back. I look forward to him having another good year for us in 2021.”
Smith-Schuster didn’t get big offers because, although he’s a great No. 2 receiver, he’s not a No. 1 receiver. Unlike other No. 2 receivers whose free-agent suitors found out the hard way that they’re not No. 1 receivers (e.g., Alvin Harper), the rest of the league saw that Smith-Schuster isn’t a No. 1 guy when the Steelers tried to make him the No. 1 guy after the Antonio Brown implosion, coincidentally sparked by Smith-Schuster being named 2018 team MVP.
Also working against Smith-Schuster was the fact that the market this year at receiver became depressed, thanks to a reduced salary cap and an expected glut of receivers in the draft. As a result, Smith-Schuster will stay where he’s been, catch passes in what likely will be Big Ben’s swan song, and hit the market again in 2022.