Should Steelers deal WR JuJu Smith-Schuster before the trade deadline?

Tommy Jaggi
JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

JuJu Smith-Schuster has been non-existent for the Steelers in recent weeks. Here’s why it may not be the worst idea to see what they can get for him.

Writing an article like this a few months ago would have been unheard of. Entering the 2020 season, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was Ben Roethlisberger’s top option in the passing game, and he was the only one of Pittsburgh’s receivers with an established NFL resume.

Surprisingly, just five games into Pittsburgh’s season, Smith-Schuster has become an afterthought. Though he had an impressive Week 1 against the New York Giants that included 6 catches on 6 targets for 69 yards and 2 touchdowns, his impact has been minimal since then.

From Weeks 2-6, JuJu has been targeted 22 times and has turned his opportunities into just 125 yards (5.6 yards per target), according to Pro Football Focus. His most recent game against the Browns was statistically his worst of the season, as Smith-Schuster caught 2 of 4 targets for merely 6 yards (3.0 yards per catch).

With the emergence of likely future superstar, Chase Claypool, JuJu has taken a back seat in Pittsburgh’s offense, and it’s not hard to see why. Though he was a solid number two when Antonio Brown was taking pressure away from him, Smith-Schuster isn’t much of a separator and is forced to do a majority of his work on short and intermediate routes from the slot. In addition, Roethlisberger is quickly developing a good rapport with wide receiver James Washington, while Diontae Johnson was his favorite target over the first two weeks before suffering a concussion and back injury.

Why should Steelers entertain a potential JuJu trade?

The thought of trading away a player as popular as JuJu Smith-Schuster will not be welcomed by most Steelers fans. JuJu has been a fan favorite since entering the league as a second-round pick back in 2017 and he is currently one of the faces of the franchise. However, his time in Pittsburgh is very likely coming to an end soon.

With the Steelers being tight against the cap ceiling and the potential of a cap drop next season due to the money lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s highly unlikely that Pittsburgh will find a way for JuJu to stick around with the team. The Steelers hold no leverage over Smith-Schuster and there are zero reasons why he shouldn’t test the market this offseason.

Because of his diminished role on offense, the Steelers should at least see what the going rate is for a player like JuJu.Though he may not be the number one receiver we were hoping for in Pittsburgh, he’s still a 23-year-old player with a 1,400-yard season under his belt and he would be sure to fetch some interest.

The Steelers essentially have two options here: They can either ride out the remaining 11 games with JuJu on the roster (hopefully in a larger role than what we have seen so far), or they could gain some solid draft capital by dealing Smith-Schuster before the November 3rd trade deadline.

There is next to no chance the Steelers will even entertain the thought of a trade like this – especially with their team being a legitimate contender this year. However, if Pittsburgh was able to land a second-round pick for a player that won’t be on the team in a few months, it could be more beneficial to their future.

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Pittsburgh could either throw that pick back into another wide receiver or potentially use it to trade up for a future quarterback next year. I’m not advocating that trading away a player like JuJu Smith-Schuster is the right move, considering the circumstances, but at least it’s some food for thought.