“The Browns is the Browns.” — JuJu Smith-Schuster.
In what has been an eventful first four seasons in the NFL, Smith-Schuster has gone from a fan favorite in the Steel City to a scapegoat who couldn’t depart Pittsburgh any faster. Despite his 13 receptions totaling 157 yards and a score against Cleveland in what could have served as his final game as a Steeler, in retrospect, his stance among the front office and fans has been simply remarkable. And now, he enters free agency.
Since his selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, the former USC Trojan has registered 308 career receptions for 3,726 yards and 26 touchdowns. He caught 97 passes for 831 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns during the 2020 season, but his role has largely diminished since his Pro Bowl year in 2018.
Smith-Schuster burst onto the scene as an ascending potential WR1 his first few seasons in the league. But Pittsburgh has continued to add pieces around an ever-aging Ben Roethlisberger that have now trumped Smith-Schuster not only from a production standpoint but, from a fundamental level, in talent as a football player.
Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and James Washington look to be the trio of wideouts moving forward in the black and gold, putting Smith-Schuster on the outside looking in.
So, what does the market look like for a 24-year-old wideout, coming off of a rookie deal, whose non-football antics have overshadowed his on-field production?
Even in a deep free-agent pool of wideouts including Allen Robinson, A.J. Green, Chris Godwin, Corey Davis, and Kenny Golladay, Smith-Schuster should have options when free agency officially opens on St. Patrick’s Day.
An 11-5 record and the fourth-most cap space in the league has the Colts sitting pretty entering the offseason. Jonathan Taylor, Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, and DeForest Buckner headline a talented influx of youth within the Colts roster that has them set up as AFC title contenders in the near future. On the other hand, questions remain at quarterback as Philip Rivers approaches 40 and wideouts T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal (RFA) are free agents.
Smith-Schuster would fit very nicely alongside Michael Pittman Jr. in head coach Frank Reich’s system, creating one of the most talented young wide receiver duos in the entire league. Pittman was a nice surprise in his rookie campaign, and just like Smith-Schuster, played his college ball at USC. The Colts have the money to give Smith-Schuster what he wants and more, but will it be a mutual fit?
Washington Football Team
The clear and No. 1 favorite to acquire wideouts this offseason is Washington. Terry McLaurin needs help, simple as that.
Washington already has been linked to Robinson, Golladay, and others, and I'm sure Smith-Schuster is high on their free-agent board. The cap space is there, and it’s an attractive option from the standpoint of an up-and-coming roster with an influx of talent.
Coming off an NFC East title, there were plenty of bright spots on offense, including rookie running back Antonio Gibson and tight end Logan Thomas, but Smith-Schuster would immediately have the opportunity to be a 1,000-yard receiver in D.C. opposite McLaurin.
In fact, Smith-Schuster enjoyed his best year as a pro in 2018 opposite Antonio Brown, and with McLaurin—a stud in his own right—on the other side, Smith-Schuster could be primed to return to Pro-Bowl form in the burgundy and gold.
New York Jets
Oh, what could have been if the Jets just didn’t… Jet.
OK, so they botched their “Tank for Trevor” campaign by defeating the Los Angeles Rams and Browns, and now sit at No. 2 in the draft with holes everywhere in their roster, including at head coach.
It remains to be seen if Sam Darnold remains under center, or if Justin Fields or Zach Wilson take over the reins, but whomever the quarterback is come Week 1 next fall, he’ll require a much-needed boost out wide.
Jamison Crowder has been a nice addition, but only has one more year left on his deal (and an easily cuttable one at that). Denzel Mims enjoyed a nice rookie campaign. Outside of that, the well runs dry. If Smith-Schuster wants his WR1 role back, he sits down with Jets general manager Joe Douglas and doesn’t leave until pen hits the paper.
Make all the Tik-Tok jokes you want, Smith-Schuster can play.
He’s proven to be more than just a possession receiver in years past, and to return to form, a departure from Pittsburgh seems inevitable.