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JuJu Smith-Schuster speaks openly about his “nerve wracking” stint in free agency

The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver returned for one more year in Pittsburgh, but his first stint in free agency wasn’t what he had planned.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the offseason with a staggering number of free agents on their roster. Some of their big name players were on the open market and looking for new homes.

As free agency began, you saw rumors swirling, and players start to sign with new teams.

Bud Dupree signed with the Tennessee Titans.

Mike Hilton signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Matt Feiler signed with the Los Angeles Chargers.

But for some players, like James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, they were left waiting, wondering what would happen on the open market.

The fact Smith-Schuster was one of the players who hadn’t found a home yet was certainly surprising to many. He had been nothing but productive since entering the NFL, but many feel his off field shenanigans might have tarnished his reputation with other teams.

Either way, Smith-Schuster ended up settling on a one-year contract with the Steelers, or as he called it, “betting on himself.” Whatever you call it, Smith-Schuster spoke openly about how nerve-wracking free agency was for him, much more nerve-wracking than his wait on draft day when he was selected in the second round.

“I would probably say free agency was more nerve wracking than draft day,” Smith-Schuster told PFT PM. “Everything this year did not play out to how I wanted it to be when I look back. It’s a lot different. It’s betting on myself, going with the team I’ve been with before, and going out trying to get paid again.”

Yeah, Smith-Schuster settled on returning to the Steelers. Not that he isn’t happy to be back. Happy to be playing with Ben Roethlisberger for at least one more year. Happy to get a chance to put up numbers which will equate to a big pay day in 2022, but he was hoping to cash in, and he didn’t.

“Going back to where I know my quarterback, I know my receivers coach, I know my offense...They know me, they know my body. Just betting on myself is something that I’ve looked at, and I don’t regret it at all.”

The Steelers had to be thrilled to get Smith-Schuster back on a one-year prove it deal, but I think it is fair to say Smith-Schuster’s first stint in free agency was considered a bust. Will he change anything about 2021 to help his cause in 2022? Will he stay off social media more? Will the pre-game TikTok videos be a thing of the past? Will he be more guarded with what he says to the media?

Only time will tell, but if Smith-Schuster wants to hit the big pay day he will need to put up big numbers, and that would be just fine with the Steelers as they hope to revitalize their offense under Matt Canada this year.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the start of the 2021 regular season.