PITTSBURGH — When JuJu Smith-Schuster returned for his fifth season with the Steelers, it was met with mild surprise.
It was even more surprising after it was revealed the wide receiver had offers from both the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. However, when it came down to it, Smith-Schuster chose loyalty over a chance to play with Patrick Mahomes.
“For me, it’s more so about loyalty,” Smith-Schuster said. “You know, playing with my quarterback of the last four years. The fact that he’s coming back for one more year and the fact that I could have a one-year deal, you know everything just organized itself for me. This organization pretty much knows my body inside and out.”
When it comes to turning down the offer to play for Mahomes, Smith-Schuster meant no ill will, but Ben Roethlisberger’s influence was clearly felt on Smith-Schuster.
“Don’t get me wrong, Patrick Mahomes is a great quarterback and he will be for the next decade,” Smith-Schuster said. “But there’s just a loyalty to my coaches and my quarterback.”
Roethlisberger and the familiarity that Pittsburgh brings is perhaps the biggest reason that Smith-Schuster returned to the Steelers.
“At the end of the day, I have to do what’s best for me and that’s staying home,” Smith-Schuster said. “You know, just knowing my quarterback, my offensive coordinator, my wide receivers coach, it makes everything easier on me.”
While Smith-Schuster is certainly going to be a Steeler for the 2021 season, with the salary cap expected to jump greatly, Smith-Schuster is hoping to get his value’s worth on the open market.
“My value is my value,” Smith-Schuster said. “I thought with everything that happened this year it was different. So, next year is a year where the cap will be so much better, so much bigger. Knowing that I’ll be on the market again and that every team would want to offer something on the table to what my value is.”
Smith-Schuster’s plans going forward are to focus on the season and maximize his value. It is one reason that Smith-Schuster wants to get out of the slot and move outside. And once he hits the open market, Smith-Schuster knows that all his options are open, even the Steelers’ divisional rivals in the AFC North.
“There’s a lot of times where you see guys go to other teams in the AFC North,” Smith-Schuster said. “If the price is right, you just never know.”
While Smith-Schuster clearly wants to get his value’s worth on the market, that does not preclude him from returning to Pittsburgh after the 2021 season. In fact, Smith-Schuster would welcome it.
“I think to come back for another four-years and be with the Steelers for 9 years would be tremendous and remarkable,” Smith-Schuster said. “It would be unheard of from a receiver. No doubt, don’t get it wrong, Pittsburgh is definitely still an option.”
While the most he was offered on the open market this season was $8 million and incentives, Smith-Schuster is betting on himself in order to get even more money in the 2022 offseason. With more cap space and lots of weapons around him, it is certainly possible that Smith-Schuster sees through his vision.