Coming from the mind of a Steelers' fan is my take on Jujus future with the team, I always feel like my Steelers based articles are always a better write because I know this team in and out.
For 3 years JuJu has been a on and off the field people person, what's not to like about him, he has a dog named Boujee, he has a saying "Its Litty," a YouTube channel where he gives back to the people of Pittsburgh and pranks students at USC. During games his touchdown celebrations are creative and funny, he dances on the sideline and on the field, he blew up Vontaze Burfict, bought a house for his family, and most of the time wears a smile like Steelers' legend Hines Ward. JuJu is definitely a fan favorite, so even despite his lack of action due to injuries in the 2019-2020 season Juju was still getting cheers and recondition for his humor. Even though Smith-Schuster is a very prized social media presence, his numbers last year weren't very "Litty."
What JuJu has Done
Last season Smith-Schuster played 12 games, in those 12 games he caught 42 passes for 552 yards and 7 touchdowns. Obviously, his lack of production when on the field was part credit to the discombobulation of the quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin "Duck" Hodges. Injuries and basically two rookie quarterbacks throwing to you in a season when Antonio Brown is no longer there and the run game was not working is very hard on a player who was immediately getting doubled team.
When JuJu has been a number 2 wideout he has put up fantastic numbers, 20 starts in 30 games, catching 169 out of 245 targets, 2,343 yards and 14 touchdowns, he put up those stats as a number 2 wideout in 2 years. He is looking for a bounce back season and now he has Big Ben back throwing to him, Conner is back healthy and ready to run, and some receiver help on the other side of him in Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and possible rookie Chase Claypool.
The Steelers' are in a tight money situation, they are going to have to pay defensive star T.J Watt, RB James Conner if he has a amazing year, and then JuJu. The franchise tag is always available and right now it is being used on OLB Bud Dupree. Smith-Schuster is worth a pay day in my opinion, the guy doesn't complain, doesn't throw anybody under the bus, doesn't get in trouble, produces when healthy and is reliable.
JuJu was asked about his contract situation and said "At the end of the day, I'm just here to play ball," and to me, that says a lot about a player when he doesn't hold out, it shows he doesn't value himself over everyone else, positivity is his game and he plays it well. There are also reasons why the Steelers wouldn't sign him to a long term deal, money is one, with Ben Roethlisberger eating most of the cap at $23,750,000 million dollars. Plus with Diontae Johnson and James Washington emerging, could the Steelers really save on money by not making a deal with the former second rounder and invest in the younger guys?
What if the Steelers do sign JuJu?
If the Steelers sign JuJu, that shows they believe he can be the top receiver in Pittsburgh for years to come, Pittsburgh tends to get contracts done before the year they are due and since COVID hit, it's hard to get deals done because very little money is coming in. The best option for him is probably to get franchise tagged and see where the money situation is after that, Ben only has one year left on his contract, he may retire or he may not, the Steelers could not resign him and put that money in other places and start Rudolph.
JuJu is a not proven number 1 receiver, fans and analysts have different opinions on that but he hasn't had a fair chance to really prove that he is. In his first year he had Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell to take attention off of him. In his second year he just had AB and teams couldn't double cover both, so they chose to cover AB and left JuJu to have an amazing year and that ended up earning him team MVP honors. In his third year he was the number 1 but missed four games and had no consistency at the QB position. Like James Conner, JuJu has something to prove in 2020, which is a contract year for the both. Juju has shown signs of being a number 1, in 2018 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Smith-Schuster was a target for Ben on back-to-back drives including the game wining drive, JuJu caught a back shoulder pass on the sidelines and a short pass on the first comeback drive. On the last drive he caught what looked like another back shoulder pass, all against A.J. Bouye. He has had two 97 yard touchdowns, including one during his rookie campaign.
What JuJu does for Ben and What he does for Himself
Smith-Schuster can catch contested catches, as seen in the photo above. For Ben, he seems like a Heath Miller but at receiver, for people not familiar with the Steelers or the NFL, that was Ben's go to guy in sticky situations for many years, a safety blanket. Right now it's a 50/50 chance if JuJu leaves or stays in the Burgh, money is mainly the issue for the Steelers, but JuJu hasn't shown any sign of a money hungry player. In some ways he plays like Antonio Brown, good hands and footwork but without the attitude. Per BehindtheSteelerCurtain.com he is learning how to lineup in the backfield, that is good news. Per SteelersDepot.com JuJu says he is lighter and quicker than he has ever been.
Is it really a big loss if the Steelers don't sign JuJu?
The Steelers are known for always having great receivers and transforming them from scrappy to playoff level. So is it really all that bad if JuJu doesn't get paid with Pittsburgh? It is bad, Smith-Schuster loves Pittsburgh, you don't take candy from a baby without the baby getting upset, if Juju gets denied a contract then he will forever hold a grudge against Pittsburgh no matter what he says. The fans love him, he loves them, not only would Pittsburgh lose a good player, the organization would hear backlash from the fans. If Steeler fans don't like something we will share our opinions. If he does leave then the WR core will be lacking a safety blanket for Ben, so far Ben hasn't had any in-game action with a lot of the Steelers pass catchers like Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Deon Cain, Eric Ebron, or Zach Gentry. The Steelers need a reliable pass catcher and presence on the offense other than Ben and Maurkice Pouncey.
The past four years for the teams' locker room has been a roller coaster of emotions and distractions, Le'Veon Bell holding out, Antonio Brow and his antics, Roethlisberger being hurt last year, losing what should've been an easy playoff win, and going through coaching and player changes. He has a bigger role than anyone really realizes, the role of being a playful but serious athlete, the organization has never really had anyone like JuJu and he's the kind of guy you want representing your team.
What Smith-Schuster has to do to Secure a Pay Day
Stay healthy all 16 games
Prove he is a #1 receiver
Show he can be a safety blanket 100% of the time
Be successful in double coverage
Teach the younger receivers
Improve his catching and footwork
Be the go-to guy in tough situations
Come up big on game deciding drives
Keep being himself on and off the field
JuJu Smith-Schuster, like it or not, is not a #1 receiver yet, he hasn't proved it. Will he? Yes. If JuJu does most of the things on that list, he's getting a payday in either Pittsburgh or somewhere else.
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