JuJu Smith-Schuster

Patrick Mahomes Played Central Role In Chiefs Signing JuJu Smith-Schuster, MVS

The Chiefs are 2-0 and enter Week 3 second in points per game. The team, which traded Tyreek Hill and lost other wide receivers in free agency, heads to Indianapolis ranked sixth in passing yards and third in offensive DVOA.

Patrick Mahomes is obviously driving this effort, but the former MVP and Super Bowl MVP is still adjusting to a new-look receiving corps. Kansas City’s fifth-year starter did plenty to assemble this group, beginning shortly after the Hill extension talks took a turn that led to the blockbuster swap with Miami.

Chiefs GM Brett Veach informed Mahomes in mid-March of the increasing likelihood Hill would be dealt, Nate Taylor of The Athletic notes, with the perennial Pro Bowl wideout’s request for a significant raise becoming an untenable proposition for the Chiefs (subscription required). The Raiders’ Davante Adams contract changed Hill’s approach, and the Chiefs added their two free agent receiver targets shortly after the Adams extension (JuJu Smith-Schuster) and the Hill trade (Marquez Valdes-Scantling).

Although it looked for a bit like the Chiefs brought in Smith-Schuster to complement Hill, due to the team’s No. 1 wideout still being on the team when the longtime Steeler signed, Taylor adds Mahomes had begun recruiting Smith-Schuster shortly after learning Hill could be gone. Smith-Schuster had been on Kansas City’s radar for two offseasons. The Chiefs pursued him in 2021, but the former Steelers second-round pick opted to stay in Pittsburgh for one more year. A January report indicated Smith-Schuster was interested in circling back to the Chiefs as well. Mahomes helped move this transaction — a one-year, $3.76MM deal — across the finish line, eyeing the Pittsburgh slot as a player who could excel in myriad capacities in Kansas City.

Valdes-Scantling did not have the Chiefs on his radar to start free agency, according to Taylor, but Mahomes called the ex-Packers deep threat shortly after the Hill deal commenced. MVS visited the Chiefs and signed with them a day later. The Packers had made a late push to retain their former fifth-round pick, but Taylor notes they offered a one-year deal. MVS had expected to land a one-year pact, however, and the Chiefs only guaranteed $8.56MM of the wideout’s three-year, $30MM deal at signing.

Combined, the Chiefs’ top four receivers’ salaries — also factoring in Mecole Hardman and Skyy Moore‘s second-round contracts — come in at a fraction of Hill’s league-record $30MM-per-year Dolphins dough. Hill has gotten off to a fast start in Miami and fit better on a Dolphins payroll lacking a franchise-QB salary. Travis Kelce still leads the Chiefs in receiving by a wide margin — something that probably should be expected to be the case at season’s end, barring injury — while Smith-Schuster, MVS and Hardman have combined for 21 receptions through two games. Moore is being brought along slower, having played just 15 offensive snaps in two weeks.

Restructure Details: Stanley, Hill, Smith-Schuster, Vannett

As teams around the NFL attempt to navigate the salary cap while putting together the rosters with which they will open the season, a couple of players have agreed to rework their current contracts in order to give their teams a bit more breathing room. Here are a few notable examples:

  • Ronnie Stanley, LT (Ravens): Baltimore addressed a major stressor today by converting $8.47MM of star left tackle Stanley’s salary this year into a signing bonus, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. The move resulted in the creation of $6.35MM of cap space for the 2022 season. This is a win-win for both sides. The Ravens gave Stanley a five-year, $112.8MM contract extension mid-season in 2020 that made him the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL at the time. Since signing the contract, Stanley has played in two total games. With this compromise, Stanley still gets money from the contract while giving the Ravens a bit of relief on what stood to be the 20th largest cap hit in the NFL this season. After initially holding a cap hit of $18.55MM, Stanley will now represent a much easier to swallow $12.2MM of the Ravens’ cap space this year.
  • Troy Hill, CB (Rams): Los Angeles will make its cap struggles a bit easier by exercising a pre-existing option in Hill’s contract that will lower his 2022 cap hit by about $2MM, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic. Hill returned to his long-time home in Los Angeles sporting a one-year-old contract from the Browns. The Rams decided to trade for their former cornerback a year after losing out on him to a two-year, $9MM deal from Cleveland. The option will lower Hill’s 2022 cap hit from $4.5MM to only $2.5MM.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR (Chiefs): Smith-Schuster decided in his second stint with free agency to join a new franchise, signing with the Chiefs on a one-year, $3.76MM contract. The deal was already extremely incentive-laden, but Kansas City decided to give the former-Steelers’ receiver an opportunity at a bit higher of a bonus total in a cost-efficient, cap-savvy move. According to Yates, the Chiefs agreed to an amended contract that will increase Smith-Schuster’s per-game active roster bonus from $30K to $60K. This will increase his potential season total in such bonuses from $510K to $1.02MM. What’s interesting is that, of the additional $510K, only $150K will be attributed to this year’s salary cap. Since Smith-Schuster only appeared in five games last season, only five games-worth of the additional $30K per game will count against the 2022 salary cap. The remaining $360K will be applied to the 2023 salary cap.
  • Nick Vannett, TE (Saints): New Orleans brought in a solid run-blocking tight end in Vannett last offseason on a three-year, $8MM deal. Unfortunately, the Saints were only able to get seven games of action out of Vannett last year in a season that saw him miss the first 10 weeks of the season. Perhaps a reaction to the absences last year, the Saints were able to convince Vannett to sign a reworked deal that would lower his 2022 base salary from $2.6MM to $1.04MM, according to a tweet from Yates. The lowered payout will result in about $1.55MM of cap space for New Orleans.

WR Rumors: Chiefs, Hill, Eagles, Atwell

The Chiefs chased JuJu Smith-Schuster in consecutive offseasons. They attempted to sign him in 2021, joining the Ravens in that regard. While Smith-Schuster re-signed with the Steelers last year, he said the Chiefs finished second. He landed in Kansas City this year on a one-year, $3.25MM contract. After a lost year in his Pittsburgh finale, Smith-Schuster is expected to play a more versatile role in Kansas City.

This is what I’ve been waiting to do. Everyone has to know everybody’s position. You have to know the outside, inside. You could play anywhere,” Smith-Schuster said, via NBC Sports’ Peter King, of his role in the Chiefs’ offense. “To be on so many personnel groups where we got so many great receivers who could play inside and outside, I love it. That’s what I’ve been wanting to do, to be used in so many different ways.”

The Steelers used Smith-Schuster in the slot on 78.8% of his snaps from 2020-21, per Pro Football Focus. While the veteran inside pass catcher should not be considered a pure Tyreek Hill replacement, he will be part of Kansas City’s collective post-Hill solution. Smith-Schuster joins Marquez Valdes-Scantling, second-round pick Skyy Moore and holdover Mecole Hardman in that group.

Here is more from the wide receiver scene across the league:

  • Regarding Hill, the accomplished wideout wanted to leave Kansas City, per King, who describes Hill as being unhappy leading up to the trade to Miami — a swap that led to the dominant speed threat securing a wideout-record contract. “It’s good for him and it’ll be good for us,” Andy Reid said. “It’s a win-win. I think it’ll help him in his career with the Dolphins. Financially it’s phenomenal for him and his family.” The Dolphins gave Hill a receiver-record $30MM-per-year deal, beating out the Jets in the quick-developing March sweepstakes. During a June podcast in which he expressed dissatisfaction with his 2021 role, Hill said he wanted to stay in Kansas City on a deal in the $25-26MM-per-year neighborhood. Agent Drew Rosenahus upped the asking price to that level after the Raiders’ Davante Adams extension. The Chiefs chose a trade that brought back five picks instead.
  • Jalen Reagor came up in trade rumors earlier this year, but the Eagles have seen the former first-round pick put together a good camp. The underperforming wideout looks to have secured a role as Philadelphia’s No. 4 receiver, Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes. Reagor will likely be positioned to work ahead of offseason addition Zach Pascal, despite the latter’s Indianapolis history with Nick Sirianni. Under contract for two more years, Reagor — barring a trade — is set to play behind A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins. Reagor played 67% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps in each of his first two years.
  • The Rams‘ second Super Bowl-winning season did not feature much Tutu Atwell work. Despite the diminutive Louisville product being Los Angeles’ top draft pick last year, he played just 10 offensive snaps and saw an injury cut short his return-game duties eight games in. Although Sean McVay previously wanted Atwell to see notable preseason work, the sixth-year HC said (via The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue, on Twitter) the second-round pick has impressed the team in practice to the point he will not need to suit up for August game work. The Rams still may feature a depth chart at receiver that limits Atwell’s 2022 snaps, when Van Jefferson returns from injury early in the season. The Rams will have Jefferson, Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson in front of Atwell, and they have been endlessly connected to an Odell Beckham Jr. reunion this year.

Chiefs To Sign JuJu Smith-Schuster

After long being linked to one another, a deal has reportedly been made between the Chiefs and wideout JuJu Smith-SchusterAccording to ESPN’s Field Yates, he is signing a one-year, $10.75MM contract (Twitter link). NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo adds that the deal carries a base value of $3MM, with the remainder being available through incentives (Twitter link).

The 25-year-old has spent his entire five-year career with the Steelers. A second round pick, he established himself as the ultimate compliment to Antonio Brown during his rookie season, posting 58 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. He took a step further the following campaign, totalling 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and another seven scores. That production earned him a Pro Bowl nod.

He failed to match those totals in the proceeding three years, however. Taking on an increased role in Brown’s absence, he has still put up noteworthy totals, but has generated a reputation as being best suited to a secondary workload. He played in just five games in 2021, totalling 15 catches.

On Kansas City, he certainly won’t need to be the focal point of the offense. The team already has All-Pro pass catchers in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hillbut they have made it clear adding a third piece to compliment them was a priority. The Chiefs were named as a serious contender for Smith-Schuster last offseason, who ultimately chose to remain in the Steel City on a one-year pact to play his way into a new, more lucrative deal.

While this contract is also only one year in length, it is still a raise compared to the $8MM he earned in 2021. With the likes of Allen Robinson, Davante Adams and Chris Godwin off the market, the USC product was one of the top remaining options at the position. Now, he will join a team long interested in acquiring him, and which is likely to remain a Super Bowl contender.

AFC Notes: Bailey, Steelers, Collins, Weeks

Going into the last year of his contract, Patriots punter Jake Bailey was set to earn a base salary of $925,000 for the 2022 NFL season. Due to a proven performance bonus that was triggered when Bailey was selected to the 2020 Pro Bowl, Bailey is on track to be the NFL’s highest-paid punter with a 2022 salary of $3.98MM, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.

A knee injury limited Bailey in the 2021 season which saw him struggle to live up to his expected salary. It’s now assumed that the Patriots will begin working towards a contract extension to lessen the cap hit Bailey is posed to hold. In a normal situation, the Patriots might want to see another season of success out of Bailey after a down 2021, but Bailey’s raise puts a little pressure on New England to work out a deal sooner rather than later.

Here are a few more notes from around the AFC, starting with a note from the Steel City:

  • In an article for The Athletic, Ed Bouchette poses the question: What does Pittsburgh do about their pass-catchers this offseason? The Steelers have long subscribed to the notion that they don’t need to sign a receiver to a multi-year extension (with the exception of Antonio Brown). They can (and do) always just draft another. Now, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud are headed towards free agency. They still have Diontae Johnson (heading into a contract year, himself) and Chase Claypool, but both have had their own issues: Johnson with drops and Claypool failing to improve on an impressive rookie-season. Pittsburgh can (and likely will) turn to the second and third round of the draft to address the thin roster, as usual, but do they break protocol to ensure they have at least three receivers they can trust?
  • After a one-year deal brought him to Houston, defensive tackle Maliek Collins has the Texans hooked. The 3-tech tackle played a pivotal role in now-head coach Lovie Smith‘s defense and the Texans are determined to pluck him off the open market and keep him in Houston. Luckily for Lovie, the feeling is reportedly mutual, according to Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network. Collins is a strong fit in Houston and embraced his new team and his role on the team. Smith gushed about Collins and his impact, identifying him as the linchpin of their defensive system.
  • We mentioned a couple weeks ago that the Texans were able to re-sign long-time long snapper Jon Weeks on a one-year deal. Details on the contract were provided this week by Aaron Wilson on Twitter. Weeks will stay around the veteran minimum, slightly increasing his base salary from $1.08MM to $1.12MM and slightly increasing his signing bonus from $137,500 to $152,500. Consider it a cost-of-living raise for Weeks who will become the franchise’s longest-tenured player of all time when he reaches his 13th season this fall, passing star wide receiver Andre Johnson for the most seasons in Houston of all time.

JuJu Smith-Schuster Interested In Joining Chiefs

After considering an offer from the Chiefs last offseason, wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster will give Kansas City another long look this time around. According to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com, the Steelers wideout “is interested in potentially joining the Chiefs again.”

According to Wilson, the JuJu/Chiefs connection is “no secret in NFL circles,” and many league sources believe the impending FA is hoping to join Kansas City.

Smith-Schuster hasn’t come close to matching his Pro Bowl-worthy 2018 campaign. Following a forgettable 2019 campaign, JuJu somewhat bounced back in 2020, finishing with 97 catches and a career-high nine touchdowns. Still, the former second-round pick had to settle for a one-year, $8MM deal from Pittsburgh for the 2021 campaign.

The 25-year-old struggled to stay on the field in 2021 thanks to early-season shoulder surgery. He ultimately saw time in only five games, hauling in 15 receptions for 129 yards.

In Kansas City, Smith-Schuster would be joining a high-flying offense that’s led by Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. Receivers Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson are set to hit free agency this offseason.

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.

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.