PITTSBURGH — After the Steelers’ season-ending loss to the Cleveland Browns, star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster shared a tearful hug on the sideline at Heinz Field.
The 2020 season, and all the promise that it once held, was over, and that means an offseason of certain change for the Steelers.
Roethlisberger’s status for 2021 seems uncertain, with a salary cap crunch upcoming and his $41 million cap hit far out-stripping his performance. Smith-Schuster almost certainly has played his last game in Black and Gold, as the receiver has earned a top dollar free agent contract this summer that the Steelers have no chance of matching.
That gave the team’s loss on Sunday an additional feeling of finality, even compared to other season-ending losses, Smith-Schuster said to Steelers Now.
“It’s tough,” Smith-Schuster said. “I sat on the field just taking it all in. You see Ben and you see guys who I’ve been with for the last four years, tremendous guys, not just players but guys off the field. I’ve learned so much and so thankful to be part of them and it means so much. I don’t know what God has in plan for the veteran guys, but all I know is that I’m so thankful for those guys and they taught me everything I’ve known, and we can’t take it for granted.”
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) January 11, 2021
Steelers Now asked Roethlisberger about Smith-Schuster’s time in Pittsburgh and his legacy if he has played his last game with the Steelers.
“I told him how proud I was of him, how much I enjoyed being his teammate, being his quarterback,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t know what the future holds. He doesn’t know. I’ll always support him. I’ll always be proud of him. I think he embodies what it is to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. He’s tough. He shows grit. You saw some of the plays he made tonight. They were black and gold through and through. I hope I can speak for the fans when I would say that they don’t want him going anywhere, we don’t want him going anywhere. He’s Steelers and he’s fun. I’m just thankful for his efforts.”
Smith-Schuster led the Steelers with 13 catches and 157 yards and scored a five-yard touchdown in the team’s second-half comeback.
BleacherReport: JuJu gets the TD and cuts the Browns lead to 12 👀
— Koncorde Krash (@Koncorde_Krash) January 11, 2021
If his Steelers career is over, he’ll end it with 308 catches, 3,726 yards and 26 touchdowns in four seasons, an All-Rookie selection and a Pro Bowl selection, but without a postseason victory. That makes the prospect of leaving anything but sweet for the 24-year-old that has built his career in Pittsburgh.
“I would love to stay in Pittsburgh,” he said. “I built a strong foundation and a strong fan base. I love Coach Tomlin and Coach Ike everybody I’ve been around. They’ve helped change the way I am, I love the game of football and I would love to do it again.”