JuJu Smith-Schuster

Minor NFL Transactions: 1/15/22

Here are Saturday’s minor moves:

Dallas Cowboys

Kansas City Chiefs

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Steelers Activate JuJu Smith-Schuster

JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s season will, in fact, resume. Despite suffering what was deemed a season-ending shoulder injury in October, the veteran slot receive is expected to play Sunday night in Kansas City, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

The Steelers activated Smith-Schuster off IR on Saturday, clearing the way for his first action since Week 5. Smith-Schuster, who underwent shoulder surgery nearly three months ago, returned to practice this week and has not experienced any issues. While the Steelers are double-digit underdogs in this matchup, having their full assortment of receivers back in uniform will help the visitors’ cause.

Combining for over 2,000 yards, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool have served as Ben Roethlisberger‘s top weapons this season. JuJu did post a 52-yard receiving performance in the team’s Week 1 upset win over the Bills, but he did not contribute as much to a slumping offense in his four ensuing games. Still, the veteran has a Pro Bowl under his belt — from his 1,426-yard 2018 season — and provided a key assist during Big Ben’s 2020 comeback season (831 yards, career-high nine touchdown receptions). Smith-Schuster, 25, will be playing to boost his free agency stock ahead of another bid.

Smith-Schuster discussed deals with the Chiefs and Ravens this past offseason but opted to stay with the Steelers for familiarity purposes, signing a one-year deal worth $8MM. This injury likely will affect the fifth-year wideout’s 2022 market to some degree, but the USC alum displaying full health in Sunday’s game would stand to help him in his second free agency bid.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Designate JuJu Smith-Schuster For Return

Out since Week 5 with a shoulder injury, JuJu Smith-Schuster is now back at Steelers practice ahead of their playoff opener. The Steelers designated the fifth-year wideout to return from IR on Thursday.

With Smith-Schuster’s shoulder issue deemed season-ending three months ago, this is certainly an interesting development. A practice return does not necessarily mean he will play against the Chiefs; Mike Tomlin was noncommittal on that subject. JuJu coming back would obviously help the Steelers as big underdogs in Round 1.

Smith-Schuster is believed to be healthy, per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter). However, the Steelers are not yet banking on him to be back for Sunday night’s game. JuJu has not experienced any issues in two practices this week, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (video link), pointing to an activation ahead of Saturday’s deadline.

Smith-Schuster passed on offers to sign with the Chiefs and Ravens last year, preferring his familiar Steelers setup as an avenue to a potentially more lucrative free agency payday. This injury did not help Smith-Schuster’s quest for a better market in 2022, when the cap spike should help many UFAs cash in after last year’s COVID-19-induced cap reduction. Interest should still come JuJu’s way in March, but the former second-rounder’s stock has dipped since his 1,426-yard season alongside Antonio Brown in 2018.

Amid Ben Roethlisberger‘s decline, the Steelers rank 15th in passing. Diontae Johnson notched his first 1,000-yard season, while Chase Claypool ended the regular season with 860 receiving yards. Pat Freiermuth has become a key target as a rookie. Those three are signed beyond this season. James Washington, whom the Steelers activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday, joins Smith-Schuster as a free agent-to-be.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster Done For Year?

The Steelers expected to put JuJu Smith-Schuster on injured reserve, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter link). It’s not official yet, but team doctors believe that the shoulder injury he suffered on Sunday will be a season-ender.

Smith-Schuster was forced out after a rushing attempt in the second quarter. If this is the end of the season for the 24-year-old (25 in November), he’ll finish out with 15 catches for 129 yards in five games, plus three carries for nine yards.

The wide receiver is now in his fifth pro season, but his career hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. In 2018, the former second-round pick broke out with 111 catches for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance. Then, in ’19, he recorded just 42 grabs for 552 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games. Smith-Schuster was healthier in 2020 and bounced back somewhat, finishing with a 97/831/9 stat line. When he couldn’t find the payday he was looking for, he re-upped with the Steelers on a one-year, $8MM deal.

Smith-Schuster could have inked a better deal with the Ravens and the Chiefs were also in the mix. Instead, he opted to bet on himself — that gamble may have backfired.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

JuJu Smith-Schuster Changes Agents

JuJu Smith-Schuster essentially tabled his free agency until 2022, re-signing with the Steelers on a one-year deal. He will have a new agency negotiating his next contract.

The fifth-year wide receiver will move from Roc Nation Sports to the Wasserman agency (Twitter link). Roc Nation had represented Smith-Schuster for years. Going into a second straight contract year, however, the Pro Bowl wideout changed his strategy.

A reduced salary cap depressed the market for most players, and Smith-Schuster was no exception. Although the Ravens are believed to have offered more, with the Chiefs entering the mix as well, Smith-Schuster opted to re-sign with the Steelers on a one-year, $8MM deal. Several marquee UFAs agreed to one-year pacts, but the cap is expected to balloon north of $200MM in 2022. Teams look set to have more money to spend next year, and more long-term contracts will likely be offered.

The Steelers will have exclusive negotiating rights with Smith-Schuster until next year’s legal tampering period, which will take place two days before the start of the 2022 league year. It will be difficult to see Smith-Schuster signing a long-term extension before retesting the market. The 24-year-old receiver was not expected to be back with the Steelers in 2021, however. Pittsburgh has both Smith-Schuster and James Washington going into walk years, with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool signed beyond 2021.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chiefs Finished Second For JuJu Smith-Schuster; Ravens’ Scheme Became Factor

The Ravens submitted JuJu Smith-Schuster a better offer than the Steelers did, but the former Pro Bowl wide receiver opted to stay in Pittsburgh. Baltimore was not his second choice, either.

Had Smith-Schuster not ultimately decided to stay with the Steelers, he would have joined the Chiefs. Andy Reid continued to text images of the Vince Lombardi trophy to the 24-year-old wideout, and Smith-Schuster confirmed Kansas City was his second choice.

I think, just seeing K.C. and bro, Andy Reid was just calling me and he was sending me Lombardi Trophy pictures like constantly. We had a good talk, so it would’ve been K.C. after the Steelers,” Smith-Schuster said during an appearance on the Michael Irvin Podcast (via NFL.com).

Smith-Schuster would have replaced Sammy Watkins alongside Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce in the Chiefs’ historically loaded pass offense. Watkins ended up signing with the Ravens, who had issues convincing acclaimed receivers to sign this offseason. The Ravens also offered T.Y. Hilton more money than the Colts did, but the veteran wideout stayed in Indianapolis. Smith-Schuster indicated Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson-centered run scheme became an issue as he considered a possible intra-AFC North jump.

[Playing for a rival], too, and I’m curious to see how they’re going to be this year having Sammy Watkins and how they’re going to use him and throwing the ball and stuff like that,” Smith-Schuster said of the Ravens. “Lamar’s a really, a heavy run offense with the backs that he has. I just point being facts. His No. 1 target was [Mark] Andrews, who’s a tight end.”

New Ravens receivers coach Tee Martin, who coached Smith-Schuster at USC, began Baltimore’s recruitment. Jackson and John Harbaugh contacted Smith-Schuster as well. The Ravens are believed to have offered Smith-Schuster a $9MM salary with $4MM in incentives. He re-signed with the Steelers on a one-year, $8MM deal.

Tee Martin was a coach at USC who coached me, he ended up going to the Ravens and he reached out and that’s how that process started. Lamar reached out, the head coach called, Marlon Humphrey‘s hitting me up,” Smith-Schuster said. “It starts getting serious when the players start texting you and hit you up like, ‘Yo, what’s up, bro? What we doing? Come win.’ All respect to them, and it was cool. But I think with me it’s more so staying home, staying loyal. In my situation, we have a new OC, Ben’s coming back, my relationship with my receiver coach, Ike Hilliard, is amazing. You can’t beat that.”

Reprising his role in an increasingly pass-heavy Steelers offense, Smith-Schuster will have a chance to re-enter free agency in 2022. The Chiefs, who also finished second in the Trent Williams sweepstakes, are likely still on the hunt for a receiver to replace Watkins.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Re-Sign JuJu Smith-Schuster

The Steelers are bringing JuJu Smith-Schuster back on a one-year deal, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The wide receiver will earn just $8MM on the team-friendly pact (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). And Pittsburgh is playing around with the structure of the deal in order to minimize the 2021 salary cap impact. Per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, Smith-Schuster’s deal includes a $7MM signing bonus and a $1MM salary, and the team is adding four voidable years so that the cap hit this season is just $1.6MM (Twitter link).

Smith-Schuster could have made more elsewhere, as Taylor Bisciotti of NFL.com tweets. The Chiefs offered him a one-year deal with the same base salary of $8MM, plus $3MM in incentives. The Ravens made an even stronger pitch — $9MM plus $4MM in incentives. Ultimately, Smith-Schuster opted to give the Steelers a home team discount.

At the end of the day, I want to have my legacy in Pittsburgh and retire there,” Smith-Schuster said in February. “I don’t want to leave…I’m Pittsburgh for life.”

Smith-Schuster’s production tailed off over the last two seasons, putting top-of-the-market money out of his reach. Still, he drew widespread interest. In addition to the aforementioned Ravens and Chiefs, the Jets and Raiders were also connected to the youngster. The Jets wound up signing Corey Davis to a three-year, $37.5MM deal. It’s not clear if they offered a similar deal to Smith-Schuster, or if the wide receiver had interest in joining a non-contender.

Smith-Schuster, still only 24, had just 831 receiving yards last year, but there’s reason to believe that he could get back to his old form with Ben Roethlisberger back under center.

As a rookie, Smith-Schuster caught 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns in just 14 games. In 2018, Smith-Schuster eclipsed then-teammate Antonio Brown with 111 catches for 1,426 yards and seven scores en route to his first ever Pro Bowl nod. He’ll look to reprise those numbers on his new deal in 2021.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers, JuJu Smith-Schuster Still In Talks

The Jets want JuJu Smith-Schuster, but a return to the Steelers hasn’t been ruled out, according to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo (on Twitter). The two sides are still in talks, so a deal could come together at the right price. 

Smith-Schuster’s production has tailed off over the last two seasons, but it appears that he’s still seeking top-of-the-market money. Corey Davis just agreed to a three-year, $37.5MM deal with the Jets. Curtis Samuel joined Washington for $34MM+ over three years. Nelson Agholor inked a two-year, $22MM deal with the Patriots. Smith-Schuster — who is a couple years removed from a 1,426-yard campaign — is likely looking to top all of those recent receiver contracts.

Smith-Schuster, still only 24, had just 831 receiving yards last year, but there’s reason to believe that he could get back to his old form with Ben Roethlisberger back under center.

In addition to the Jets and Steelers, the Raiders are also said to have interest in Smith-Schuster. Jon Gruden & Co. just added John Brown on a one-year contract, but there could still be room for JuJu to join 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs III and Hunter Renfrow in the WR group.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Eyeing JuJu Smith-Schuster

The Jets have been in talks with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). The Steelers free agent would join the newly-signed Corey Davis in the Jets’ WR group. 

While many of this year’s top free agents have already found lucrative deals, things have been fairly quiet around Smith-Schuster. He recently said that he’d like to stay in Pittsburgh, but it’s not clear whether a return is in the works.

At the end of the day, I want to have my legacy in Pittsburgh and retire there,” Smith-Schuster said in February. “I don’t want to leave…I’m Pittsburgh for life.”

Smith-Schuster won’t turn 25 until November — it’s rare to see such a young and talented player available as an unrestricted free agent. In 2018, he was a revelation for the Steelers as he notched 1,426 receiving yards. But, this past season, he finished with just 831 yards. It’s possible that Smith-Schuster came into this week with outsized expectations, but the Jets could be willing to meet his asking price, which could be in the neighborhood of $15MM/year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.