Steelers showed their cards too early when they re-signed JuJu Smith-Schuster

JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Steelers were shockingly able to retain JuJu Smith-Schuster for a good price, but here’s why Pittsburgh showed their cards too early. 

Considering how things were looking this offseason, I don’t think anyone could have quite predicted this. With virtually no cap space and the Steelers already losing a handful of respectable players via free agency, JuJu Smith-Schuster seemed destined to be the next one to go. After watching players like Nelson Agholor and Curtis Samuel sign sizable contracts with new teams, we would have thought that JuJu’s would be even greater. However, that didn’t prove to be the case.

To the surprise of many, Smith-Schuster turned down better offers from both the Ravens and Chiefs to stay in Pittsburgh for another season and will earn just $8 million in 2021. Kudos to him and for the Steelers to be able to get this done.

However, signing JuJu doesn’t come without a few questions of its own. Because the Steelers were able to retain him, they have made it known that veteran cornerback, Steven Nelson will now be cut if no team is willing to trade for him, and we have the right to question Pittsburgh’s depth at cornerback after already losing Mike Hilton this offseason.

While I don’t have a problem with the Steelers electing to bring JuJu back, it looks like they might have made one critical flaw (at least from an outside perspective).

Did Steelers show their cards too early?

Though we don’t have all of the details, it certainly looks like the Steelers may have exposed their hand too early. If they had the intention of signing JuJu and moving Steven Nelson, they should have done the latter first.

In 2019, Nelson graded out as one of the better cornerbacks in the league. He didn’t allow a single touchdown pass and his 65.8 passer rating allowed was one of the best marks in the NFL among starting cornerbacks. While last year’s numbers aren’t quite as impressive, Nelson was still a quality cornerback on one of the league’s best defenses.

Had the Steelers looked to trade Nelson before they signed JuJu, perhaps the veteran cornerback could have helped Pittsburgh return a 3rd or 4th round pick to the team. However, that seems entirely out of the question now. Because the Steelers showed their cards too early, other teams now know that they have no other option. The money they are using to sign JuJu means that Nelson must go, and Pittsburgh has already made this public knowledge. Teams will be less willing to trade for him knowing that they can just wait and sign Nelson as soon as he is cut.

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I still worry about whether swapping JuJu Smith-Schuster for Steven Nelson was the right choice – especially considering Pittsburgh’s concerning lack of depth at the cornerback position. With a little more caution, perhaps the Steelers would have been able to find solid trade value for Nelson before they signed JuJu.