JuJu Smith-Schuster Rumors: Latest on Free-Agent WR's Future with Pittsburgh

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 17, 2021

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) celebrates after scoring on a 5-yard pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Another day of the offseason has passed, and it's still unknown whether JuJu Smith-Schuster will be back with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 2021 season.

After spending his first four years in the NFL with the team, the 24-year-old is now one of the top wide receivers on the free-agent market.

Although NFL free agency doesn't begin until Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, the legal tampering period started Monday, so teams have been negotiating and agreeing to deals with players since then. And while some notable names have already come off the market, including several wide receivers, Smith-Schuster is still available.

That doesn't mean there aren't teams with interest in Smith-Schuster, though. NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that "a number of teams" are going to be in on him this offseason, and that could include Pittsburgh.

"The Steelers want him back, Ben Roethlisberger definitely wanted him back," Garafolo said during an appearance on Good Morning Football.

But Smith-Schuster may not have interest in returning to Pittsburgh, and it appears more likely he could be signing with a different team this offseason.

"He is also telling teammates, I can tell you, that he is likely to head elsewhere for the next portion of his career," Garafolo added. "So it doesn't look like JuJu Smith-Schuster will be back in Pittsburgh."

The Steelers selected Smith-Schuster in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft, and he's put up solid numbers during his time with the team. His best season came in 2018, when he had 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games. Last year, he had 97 catches for 831 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns in 16 games.

While some free-agent wide receivers have agreed to deals with teams, many of the top playmakers on the market remain available. In addition to Smith-Schuster, that includes Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller V and Curtis Samuel.

On Tuesday, ESPN's Dianna Russini heard from a free-agent wide receiver that "the WR market is really bad right now." Still, there have been some receivers to agree to deals, such as Marvin Jones Jr., whom Adam Schefter of ESPN reported is heading to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If the Steelers aren't able to bring back the USC product, they'll still have some talented offensive players, such as wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. While Smith-Schuster would make Pittsburgh's offense better, perhaps it could sign another free agent if it can't agree to a deal with him.

There are plenty of teams that could benefit from adding Smith-Schuster to their offense.

On Feb. 10, 710 ESPN Seattle's John Clayton (h/t Andrew Fillipponi of 93.7 The Fan) noted the Las Vegas Raiders were "very interested" in Smith-Schuster. And since the legal tampering period started, they've already lost their top wide receiver from 2020, after Nelson Agholor agreed to a deal with the New England Patriots, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported Feb. 9 that the New York Jets were "taking a look" at Smith-Schuster, but they've agreed to a deal with Corey Davis, according to Schefter, so maybe they're no longer aiming to sign a top free-agent wide receiver.

For now, Smith-Schuster remains on the market as the free-agency period begins. But it appears things could be trending toward the talented playmaker joining a new team and getting a fresh start for the 2021 season.