Steelers Reporter: 'My Prediction' JuJu Smith-Schuster Will Hit 2021 Free Agency

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2020

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 22:  JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs the play against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on December 22, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers and JuJu Smith-Schuster may be heading for a divorce—just not for at least the next 12 months. 

Responding to a question from a reader, The Athletic's Ed Bouchette said he believes Smith-Schuster will not be tagged and will hit the open market in 2021.

"I don't see them applying a tag, which would not be necessary until next year anyway," Bouchette wrote. "They might try to sign him to a new contract, but based on last season, what he thinks he's worth and what they want to pay him may be far apart. My prediction is he will enter the final season of his contract this year and become a free agent in 2021 as others at that position before him did, such as Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders."

Smith-Schuster is coming off a wildly disappointing 2019, setting career lows in receptions (42), receiving yards (552) and touchdowns (three). While he had to spend nearly the entire season playing without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster also clearly struggled as the Steelers' top wideout after the departure of Antonio Brown.

Injuries also cost Smith-Schuster four games, and the Steelers' playoff hopes essentially ended on a fourth-down pass that went through his fingers Week 16 against the New York Jets.

Roethlisberger is expected back and healthy next season, which will create a natural uptick in Smith-Schuster's numbers, but it's fair to wonder if he's the budding superstar he appeared to be in 2017 and 2018. Defenses regularly focused their attention on Brown, allowing Smith-Schuster far more open terrain than he saw last season. Pro Football Focus graded Smith-Schuster as a mediocre 63.1 overall in 2019.

The overwhelming odds are the Steelers and Smith-Schuster will use 2020 as a redo to see where they both stand moving forward.