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NFL Draft

Five Potential Landing Spots For JuJu Smith-Schuster Next Offseason

  • The Draft Network
  • May 2, 2020
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The Steelers made the necessary decision to rid themselves of wide receiver Antonio Brown last year after nine seasons, 837 receptions, 11,207 receiving yards, 74 receiving touchdowns and an endless slew of headaches. 

Brown’s six-year run, from 2013-18, in Pittsburgh is about as statistically dominant as we've seen in recent memory, but it came at the cost of lashing out at teammates. He was eventually traded to the Raiders and never played a down before he was cut in September.

In Brown's wake, the Steelers seemed aligned to pass the mantle of feature receiver from Brown to young wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster. The upstart from USC exploded in 2018, pairing with Brown to give the Steelers a potent combo at receiver. But the 2019 season was far less kind to Smith-Schuster in the absence of Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who missed the majority of the season with an elbow injury.

It is easy to envision smoother sailing for Smith-Schuster in 2020. Roethlisberger will be back, 2019 rookie receiver Diontae Johnson will be wiser and can help alleviate the pressure on Smith-Schuster and Pittsburgh added a top-50 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to the receiving room, Chase Claypool. But the Steelers are at an awkward juncture with Smith-Schuster. He's entering into the final year of his rookie contract and the team, in its win-now window, has massive cap commitments across the board — including a 2021 year on Roethlisberger's contract that will include a $41.25 million cap hit or a $22.25 million dead-cap hit if they were to cut him at the age of 39.

Pittsburgh's current cap projection for 2021 sits right around $35 million, but that figure won't include new contracts for several prominent figures including linebacker Bud Dupree (playing 2020 on the franchise tag), cornerback Joe Haden, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, running back James Conner and Smith-Schuster. The 2020 cash commitments for Dupree, Haden and Heyward alone chew up in excess of $36 million; the Steelers are going to have to make some difficult decisions next offseason.

One such decision, according to The Athletic's Ed Bouchette, would be to let Smith-Schuster walk in free agency. Bouchette said it was "not likely" the Steelers re-sign their current top receiver. If this is the case, where might Smith-Schuster end up? He's got a colorful personality and plenty appeal as one of the league's young pass-catchers, but he's undoubtedly best off in an environment where he's the top secondary option and not the man in the receiving game.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders were the first team that came to mind when considering Smith-Schuster’s potential destinations. Las Vegas’ physical play style makes a lot of sense for him, and with newly acquired Nelson Agholor set to star in the slot on a one-year deal, there will be a vacancy in an overhauled receiver room. Jon Gruden's aggressive coaching lends well to Smith-Schuster's vertical receiving skills.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are making a good habit out of targeting mid-20 something free agents in the midst of their rebuild. From that sense, Smith-Schuster is a logical fit; he's also a fit from a traits perspective and what we know about new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's preferences at receiver. He likes them big.

Smith Schuster is dense, physical and would pair with DeVante Parker and 2019 rookie standout Preston Williams to give new quarterback Tua Tagovailoa plenty of run-after-catch threats in isolated coverage.

Los Angeles Chargers

A return to Los Angeles may just be what the doctor ordered for Smith-Schuster. With rookie passer Justin Herbert in place this season, the big-armed quarterback would undoubtedly love pairing Smith-Schuster in the slot to go along with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

Oh, right, and never mind the cost. The Chargers are projected to own some $100 million in cap space next season.

New York Jets

The Jets make sense for Smith-Schuster for all the cliches. The bright lights of the Big Apple will be a great place for him to market his personality off the field. New York has a desperate need to upgrade its pass catchers and the only prominent addition this offseason is second-round pick Denzel Mims. With over $60 million in projected cap space next offseason, there will be no shortage of funds to pay up.

One concern is can Mims develop into the man this year ahead of a potential addition of Smith-Schuster? If not, the Jets may still be looking for a WR1 after adding him to the fray.

Arizona Cardinals

What if I told you the Cardinals were a perfect destination for Smith-Schuster? With the exceptional skilled DeAndre Hopkins now in Arizona, a stellar young quarterback in Kyler Murray and nearly $58 million in projected cap space next season, the Cardinals will certainly have appeal. If they wanted to peg Smith-Schuster as the heir to veteran Larry Fitzgerald in the big slot role, their offense could get fun in a hurry. If Smith-Schuster bounces back with a massive year in 2020, he may price himself out of what Arizona is comfortable with spending between a potential free-agent contract and the cost of having Hopkins on the roster; but this is about as fun of a combo as we can cook up this far ahead of a potential divorce with the Steelers.

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