Why nobody seems to want to pay Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

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 is a household name in free agency, but here’s why the free-agent market is very dry for the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver.

When JuJu Smith-Schuster hit the open market after his rookie contract expired following the 2020 season, there were many who believed he would be a hot commodity. JuJu had been healthy for most of his career to this point and earned 1,426 yards in 2018 en route to a Pro Bowl appearance, via Pro Football Reference.

However, despite his statistical production and the fact that the was one of the youngest players to hit free agency, there weren’t many suitors for the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver last offseason. After receiving similar offers from the Ravens and Chiefs, JuJu decided to return to Pittsburgh for one more year.

Now Smith-Schuster is up for grabs once again, and just like last year, his market seems to be completely dry. This is despite watching a slot receiver like Christian Kirk rake in over $18 million in yearly value on his new contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

So why do teams seem so disinterested in JuJu Smith-Schuster and where will he end up playing in 2022?

JuJu has a replaceable skillset

Smith-Schuster’s market has far less to do with his social media usage and is much more about his replaceable skillset. JuJu clearly is a physical football player. He fights for tough yards after contact and is willing to do the dirty work over the middle of the field — even at the expense of putting his body on the line.

Unfortunately, this trait isn’t valued as highly in NFL circles as it used to be. Nowadays, teams care much more about landing players who can get open with ease and toast defenders after the catch. This is part of the reason why Ben Roethlisberger so clearly favored Diontae Johnson in the passing game.

The fact of the matter is that big slot receivers with average athletic traits are actually quite easy to come by in the NFL. These are the types of players who seem to bounce around the league and are drafted on day three every couple of years by most teams. As much as we might love JuJu, his role can easily be replaced without sacrificing efficiency on offense.

Will JuJu return to the Steelers?

For much of the offseason, I have been predicting that JuJu Smith-Schuster would sign elsewhere in free agency. While I didn’t expect him to have a big market after landing on IR early in the season last year, I expected a bit more interest than what we have seen.

By the sound of things, it doesn’t look there is currently a single suitor out there for JuJu right now who wants to pay him the type of money he was hoping to get. With many other receivers already inking new deals, JuJu continues to lose money as the asking price gradually continues to go down.

Because of this, I think a return to the Steelers is very possible. Pittsburgh has had success with Smith-Schuster early in his career, and with both James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud hitting the market this year as well, JuJu would give them at least one more stable piece as Pittsburgh’s WR3 this year.

6 free agents Steelers must still sign in early free agency. light. Trending

JuJu is still very young (just 25 years old) and he could have a long, successful career in the NFL if he stays healthy. However, teams are starting to realize that his skillset is very replaceable and there aren’t any teams out there who are willing to overpay for him in free agency.