- Evaluating the free agency of Juju Smith-Schuster
- Smith-Schuster is going to be a divisive free agent
- Which teams could pursue former Pittsburgh WR?
Before we move forward with the NFL offseason and free agency, let’s take a step back. More specifically, let’s rewind to before the start of the 2019 NFL season. The Pittsburgh Steelers had lost superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown, and were looking to replace his production on their roster. In 2018, Brown registered 1,297 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns through the air. Steelers fans weren’t too worried though, since Juju Smith-Schuster was waiting in the wings. During that same season, the dynamic sophomore player recorded 1,426 yards through the air, and 7 touchdowns.
However, Smith-Schuster’s ascent to the conversation of elite NFL wide receivers hasn’t really taken off as planned. Due to circumstances out of his control, Pittsburgh was forced to play reserve quarterbacks for the vast majority of the 2019 season, and his production nosedived. Smith-Schuster’s numbers were better in 2020 with Ben Roethlisberger under center, as he reached the end zone 9 times.
As he Smith-Schuster free agency hits after four solid but perhaps disappointing years in the league, Smith Schuster’s market is going to be fascinating to watch. Will teams view him and pay him as that potential number one wide receiver he was supposed to become? Or has his reputation as a really good, but not great, player been cemented?
As we sift through the offseason rumor mill, let’s take a look at three teams that Smith-Schuster might end up with as a free agent.
There’s been a lot of chatter around the 49ers and whether they view current quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as their long term answer. But what hasn’t received much attention is the supporting cast Garoppolo, or another quarterback, will be asked to work with in 2021.
Chris Godwin career: 244 catches. 3540 yards. 24 TD.
Juju Smith-Schuster career: 308 catches. 3726 yards. 26 TD.
Godwin's franchise tag will pay him around $16 million. Juju is younger. And he's been more productive.
Food for thought.
— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) March 9, 2021
However, if San Francisco wants to get back to the postseason next year, it would hurt for them to add another weapon for defenses to worry about. Smith Schuster signing in the Bay Area would cause a lot of problems for opposing teams. Head coach Kyle Shanahan already crafts arguably the best rushing game plans in the league. With a more formidable receiving corps, San Francisco could be nearly indefensible.
It might take them nearly all of their cap space to do it, but the Lions need playmakers in the worst way. After deciding not to apply their franchise tag to Kenny Golladay, Detroit’s receiver group now is among the worst in the NFL on paper. It’s no secret that they are rebuilding after the Matthew Stafford trade, but they are really leaving the cupboard bare for incoming quarterback Jared Goff.
If the Lions want to be any sort of competent on offense in 2021, they need to sign a player like Smith-Schuster.
In Detroit, he would get the opportunity to rehabilitate his value as a true high end wide receiver. He would not likely get that chance almost anywhere else in the league, and there’s a high reward proposition for him if he plays well. Smith-Schuster could be a target hog for Goff along the lines of what Cooper Kupp was for him in Los Angeles.
In order to remain competitive in a division with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Los Angeles Chargers will need offensive firepower. They have a solid core with emerging quarterback Justin Herbert, and precise route runner Keenan Allen. However, it seems like they might lose talented tight end Hunter Henry, who did not receive the franchise tag.
Lining Smith-Schuster opposite from or next to Allen would be scary to defend. Both players are known for effectively putting their foot in the ground on a dime, and creating separation underneath or on intermediate routes. It’s the type of acquisition that could put the Chargers in the mix for a playoff spot next year. Los Angeles also has a healthy amount of cap space to negotiate with if Smith-Schuster is looking for a higher end deal in free agency.