PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steeler’s wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster grabbed one end of a thick, knotted rope and reached back as tightly as he could with all of his muscular 6-foot-1,215-pound frames. At the other end, however, a 425-pound lion held the rope in her mouth and withdrew with ease to control the tug-of-war against the NFL-wide receiver.
After a few minutes, Smith-Schuster gave in to the lion’s power and his end of the rope went slack as he loosened his grip to surrender.
A few days later, the upcoming free agent posted the video on social media, speculating about a deeper meaning of the stunt.
Maybe Smith-Schuster will sign with the Detroit Lions? Maybe he’s in a tug-of-war with the Steelers over his future with the franchise?
Young receiver talent like Chase Claypool (left) could make it easier for the Steelers to switch from JuJu Smith-Schuster (right). Michael Reaves / Getty Images
Or the best explanation for the post: it’s just JuJu to be JuJu.
Most likely, there isn’t a big behind-the-scenes tug-of-war between the Steelers and their star-wide recipient. Smith-Schuster meets the free hand for the first time, and although he was a key element of the offensive last year as a dependable third-party target and a gritty player who could punch through the defenders for extra yards, the Steelers historically don’t give broad Contracts to broad recipients. Only Hines Ward and Antonio Brown have received a second assignment in recent Steelers history.
“I would like to stay in Pittsburgh,” said Smith-Schuster after losing to the Browns in the first round of the playoffs. “I’ve built a strong foundation and a strong following. I love Coach Tomlin and Coach Ike, everyone I’ve been with. They’ve helped change the way I do, I love the game of football and I would love to do it again.” ” . “
Earlier this week, Smith-Schuster hinted at a departure, commenting on an Instagram post by offensive lineman Zach Banner about the silence on social media until he signed his new deal.
“I wish I could get one,” wrote Smith-Schuster, adding three tearful emojis.
– Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) February 28, 2021
Even if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stands up for Smith-Schuster, all signs point to a departure from the fan favorite and leave a room with less personality but a lot of talent.
Without Smith-Schuster, the Steelers turn to Diontae Johnson, James Washington, who enters the final year of his rookie deal in 2021, and to Chase Claypool, the sophomore recipient. You could also choose to bring back the returnees and restricted free agent Ray-Ray McCloud.
The signed trio gives the Steelers plenty of playmakers. Claypool appeared as a rookie with nine touchdowns and 873 yards, and Washington showed a stronger bond with Roethlisberger in the couple’s second full season.
See what happens when JuJu Smith-Schuster tries to get Ryan Garcia body shots.
First year offensive coordinator Matt Canada favored strong vertical passing in his college offenses, which is a good sign for Claypool and Washington if Canada implements a similar scheme in Pittsburgh.
While Johnson’s speed can make him a deep threat, he is most likely used in Canada’s signature jet sweeps.
Johnson was Roethlisberger’s most popular target by volume, with 144 goals and 88 receptions, but he went through routes where he was more known for the catches he didn’t make. Provided he resolves his drop bouts, he will be an important piece in executing Canada’s pre-snap movement and stealth games.
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But even with these weapons, the Steelers will still need help to make up for Smith-Schuster’s loss, starting with identifying the team’s next slot recipient.
When McCloud returns, his size and speed make him an obvious candidate to fill Smith-Schuster’s role in the slot.
The Steelers could still seek help filling the large reception room with cheap agents or a late pull pick. The Steelers had previously tried Pitt’s former Quadree Henderson product, which successfully jet sweeped on Canada’s offensive, but was waived before the end of training camp in 2020.
The Steelers could try adding free agent Nelson Agholor, who had his best season in Las Vegas a year ago with 896 yards and eight touchdowns, but its production could keep its price tag out of reach. If the Steelers decide to go looking for an insider in the draft, they could target players like Shi Smith from South Carolina, Amari Rodgers from Clemson or D’Wayne Eskridge from Western Michigan. After all, the Steelers love their MAC products.