One of the more curious, and intriguing, aspects of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 free agency moves was the team being able to bring back wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on a one-year contract.
Trust me, it was great the team was able to find a way to bring Smith-Schuster back, and on a team-friendly deal, but it does make you wonder why Smith-Schuster wasn’t picked up by another team for top dollar.
Some will say it is because of him not being a pure No. 1 receiver.
Some will suggest it is because of his off field “brand”, and his Tik Tok dancing which got a lot of media attention this past season.
But what if it wasn’t any of the above reasons. What if there were concerns about his health? In particular, his knee(s)?
That is exactly what is insinuated by ESPN insiders when they recapped the Steelers’ early free agent moves. Check out what they had to say:
Level of free-agency aggressiveness: Mostly scaled-back approach
Top move: Re-signing wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for one year, $8 million
Smith-Schuster hitting the market and getting one-year offers was among the most surprising developments of free agency. Maybe it shouldn’t be, since many teams viewed Smith-Schuster as a good No. 2 — which, in this depressed market, doesn’t pay.
But multiple sources said the 24-year-old’s health will be something to watch after some knee concerns have persisted from the past two seasons.
In 2019, Smith-Schuster missed four games with a knee injury and concussion. He missed several practices last season with the knee injury designation, and sources say he’s received frequent treatment for knee-related issues, which makes them wonder about his long-term durability going forward.
Kim Miale, Smith-Schuster’s agent, said no concerns were raised by any team during free agency, including the Steelers, and she noted Smith-Schuster played all 16 games and into the postseason.
The Steelers are comfortable enough with Smith-Schuster’s ability to give him another season with Ben Roethlisberger to try to up his value. Smith-Schuster has been training without restriction in Los Angeles this offseason, so maybe he has worked past what nags him. He’s shown the ability to play through any issues.
But it’s something to monitor, particularly ahead of what could be a loaded 2022 class of free-agent wide receivers.
Smith-Schuster has had his share of ailments throughout his career, but the fact he played in all 16 games, plus the playoff game, last season either shows a high degree of toughness, or an injury which he just dealt with, even if it hindered his overall performance.
Regardless of why Smith-Schuster returned, and it could be a mixture of several reasons why teams stayed away, Steelers fans should be happy to see No. 19 back in the black and gold for at least another season.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.