JuJu Smith-Schuster returned to the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason in one of free agency's most puzzling decisions.
The four-year veteran receiver reportedly had better offers to join the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs, but instead re-upped for a one-year deal in Pittsburgh.
Declining to join the rival Ravens and their run-first offense makes sense. Turning down a chance to catch passes from Patrick Mahomes while contending for a Super Bowl when the Chiefs were offering a better deal — well, that requires some explaining.
Smith-Schuster provided some insight into his reasoning in a recent appearance on the Michael Irvin podcast. It sounds like he valued the comfort of remaining in a familiar place over other priorities. And he's confident enough in a 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger to give it one more shot in Pittsburgh.
"Being somewhere in an atmosphere and environment, knowing where the team knows you, they know your history, they know how you are, how to use you and stuff like that," Smith-Schuster explained, per NFL Network. "Yo, I'm gonna take my chance, I'm gonna play with Ben."
Smith-Schuster reportedly signed with the Steelers for $8 million over one season. According to NFL Network's Taylor Bisciotti, the Ravens offered $9 million with $4 million in incentives while the Chiefs offered $8 million with $3 million in incentives that he won't be eligible for in Pittsburgh.
He signed the one-year deal as the NFL faces a league-wide salary cap crunch attributed to the lost revenue of the 2020 COVID-19 season. With a massive new NFL TV deal agreed upon, that revenue crunch promises to be short-lived, and Smith-Schuster projects to be in line for the first long-term extension of his career after next season.
There is no better opportunity for an NFL wide receiver to increase his value than by catching balls from a generational talent in Mahomes on a team favored to win the Super Bowl. It's a frankly easy sales pitch that Smith Schuster said Chiefs coach Andy Reid laid on thick.
"Andy Reid was just calling me, and he was sending me Lombardi Trophy pictures like constantly," Smith-Schuster continued. … "Like texted it to me while I was trying to make a decision and I have so much respect for him and his team."
To be clear, the Chiefs were his second choice.
"We had a good talk, so it would've been K.C. after the Steelers," Smith-Schuster said.
He also clarified why he turned down the Ravens.
"Lamar [Jackson]'s a really, a heavy run offense with the backs that he has," Smith-Schuster said. 'I just, just point being facts. His No. 1 target was [Mark] Andrews, who's a tight end."
Marquise Brown was actually Jackson's top target and receiver in Baltimore last season, tallying 769 yards and eight touchdowns on 100 targets, numbers all a smidge better than Andrews, Baltimore's second-leading receiver.
But the point stands. There are better NFL opportunities for a receiver than a Ravens team whose first and second options to run the ball. It just doesn't explain why he turned down the golden opportunity to play in Kansas City.
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