For JuJu Smith-Schuster, it was a no-brainer to return to Pittsburgh.
The Steelers star wide receiver couldn’t turn down an opportunity to play with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for another season, so he ended up signing a one-year deal worth up to $8 million to return to the team. After Smith-Schuster made his decision, the NFL Network reported citing sources that the Kansas City Chiefs [$8 million, $3 million in incentives], and the Baltimore Ravens [$9 million, $4 million in incentives] both made offers that were significantly better.
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Money clearly wasn’t a factor in Smith-Schuster’s decision. The USC-product wanted to stay with the team that drafted him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
“The biggest thing was that I know everybody and everybody knows me,” Smith-Schuster told Fox News on Monday. “I know that if I had to bet on myself, I was going to play with Ben [Roethlisberger] again for one more year. I know my wide receivers coach [Ike Hilliard], my relationship with him is amazing. My relationship with the new offensive coordinator [Matt Canada] is really good, and that’s something that plays a huge part in making the right decision.”
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Smith-Schuster felt like going to play for the Ravens or Chiefs would have meant that he had “to start all over again for one year.” And there was no guarantee that he’d be on the same team next year. Even though he signed a one-year deal to remain with the Steelers, he still feels like 2021 will be a “prove it” type of year.
“Every year you have to prove yourself,” Smith-Schuster added. “It’s something that I’ve always had on my shoulders. At the same time, it’s a year that I want to go and put numbers up and show people that this is what I’m made of and this is what I do.”
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Last season, Smith-Schuster was a key part of the Steelers, who finished with a 12-4 record and winners of the AFC North. He hauled in 97 receptions for 831 yards with nine touchdowns.
In his second NFL season, Smith-Schuster came away with the best year of his young career. He had 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. He will look to regain that form, even though the Steelers have a ton of mouths to feed, including wideouts Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and new running back Najee Harris, who Pittsburgh took with its first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.