The Steelers have a lot of factors to consider before making JuJu Smith-Schuster one of the league’s highest-paid receivers. Here’s why they should wait on an extension.
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s rise to fame was almost immediate upon his arrival in the NFL. During his rookie season in 2017, the former second-round pick impressed with 7 touchdowns and 917 receiving yards in 7 starts – supplanting Martavis Bryant as the Steelers number two receiving option.
In 2018, JuJu was thrown into the discussion of the best young receivers in the league. He caught everyone’s attention with his 111 catches, 1,426 yards, and 7 touchdowns. The 22-year old receiver was voted Steelers MVP last year and was quickly on his way to being one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the league.
Fast forward a year, however, and a lot has changed. JuJu struggled in his third NFL season. Though he was without Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, the now 23-year old finished behind James Washington and Diontae Johnson with just 552 receiving yards in 12 starts.
While injuries clearly played a factor in 2019, the young receiver struggled to gain consistent separation and had issues with untimely drops. Despite playing largely from the slot, JuJu failed to make an impact in most games and he eclipsed 100 receiving yards just once. In an offense that featured a pair of backup quarterbacks leading the charge, it was often Johnson and Washington who stole the spotlight.
Smith-Schuster still has one more year left on his rookie deal, and there is no question he is going to want a massive contract extension next season. But should the Steelers give him one?
JuJu’s disappointing season in 2019 should be reason enough to pump the brakes on the whole operation. We learned a few things this past season that Pittsburgh should not ignore in contract negotiations with Smith-Schuster.
For starters, Diontae Johnson was thoroughly impressive. The rookie third-round draft choice finished number one in the league in yards of separation per route run, according to Next Gen Stats. Johnson was also remarkable in his ability to create yards after the catch, and proved to be an explosive punt returner.
James Washington also impressed. Washington had a seven-game stretch where he averaged over 76 receiving yard per game, and was the most consistent receiver from week to week.
Even when JuJu was healthy last season, he was often the odd man out. In 5 of his 12 games last year he managed less than 23 receiving yards and was a complete non-factor. Without Antonio Brown to alleviate pressure from JuJu this year, he really struggled to get going.
While the Steelers can ill-afford to lose any of the offensive playmakers they currently have, then need to think twice before handing Smith-Schuster a blank check. The 2020 NFL Draft is going to be loaded with talented wide receivers, and is one of the best groups we have seen in recent memory.
Though Pittsburgh is short-handed on draft selections this April, they could choose to beef up their receiving core by adding another weapon on offense. If they do decide to keep JuJu around for the foreseeable future, they need to make sure he is a guy that deserves to be paid like one of the top receivers in the league.
The Steelers are already in financial trouble and are currently 30th in the NFL in cap space. Pittsburgh can’t afford to hand out any more bad contracts to players who aren’t going to be worth their weight in gold. For now, it’s best if the Steelers hold off on JuJu’s extension and give him one more season to prove that he can make a difference on this offense.