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4 top landing spots for JuJu Smith-Schuster in NFL free agency

JuJu Smith-Schuster free agency

JuJu Smith-Schuster bet on himself in 2021, signing a one-year contract and staying with the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the decision backfired, the talented wide receiver will still be an attractive target in NFL free agency this offseason.

Even before suffering a significant shoulder injury, things went poorly in Pittsburgh. A limited offense with a weak-armed quarterback result in Smith-Schuster averaging under 9 ypc for the second consecutive season. After banking on a larger role in Pittsburgh, he found himself stuck in the very same situation.

Related: Top NFL free agents of 2023 – Lamar Jackson, and Deebo Samuel lead the charge

Fortunately, the 25-year-old is hitting the open market at the start of his peak years. Because of it, there is going to be a lot of interest from teams across the league. With that in mind, we’ll examine the best free-agent destinations for JuJu Smith-Schuster.

New England Patriots

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
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JuJu Smith-Schuster might seem like a bad fit for Bill Belichick because of the “Patriot Way” that everyone highlights. Here’s the thing, Belichick and the New England Patriots are more than willing to let talented players express themselves if it helps the team win. A health Smith-Schuster helps New England on the gridiron and that’s the only thing that matters.

We know how much New England loves to use its slot receiver and that’s even more evident with a young quarterback. Unfortunately, Belichick didn’t put a lot of great weapons around Mac Jones in 2021. because of salary-cap constraints, New England also won’t be in the hunt for one of the top wide receivers.

Smith-Schuster is the ideal short-term solution. He played 77% of his snaps in the slot this past season, per Pro Football Focus, consistently moving the chains. A one-year contract allows the Patriots to avoid any long-term financial commitments and Smith-Schuster can turn a productive 2022 season into a larger contract next year.

Kansas City Chiefs

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers
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It’s fair to say Smith-Schuster regrets turning down the Kansas City Chiefs for the Steelers last offseason. He thought being in an environment that knew him and how to utilize him would be better. The truth is, one of the best things a wide receiver can do is to sign with the team that starts a great quarterback. Unsurprisingly, Smith-Schuster is interested in Kansas City this spring.

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster stats (2021): 15 receptions, 129 receiving yards, 8.6 ypc in 5 games

This is the perfect situation for the 6-foot-1 slot receiver. Tyreek Hill forces defenses to shift safety help towards him and opponents are also putting additional focus on Travis Kelce. It means Smith-Schuster will always have one-on-one matchups, situations he will win a majority of the time. Patrick Mahomes is growing more comfortable taking what a defense gives him and he’ll do that even more knowing Smith-Schuster will make plays after the catch.

Chicago Bears

NFL: Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers
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Much like the Patriots, we need to see the Chicago Bears do more for Justin Fields. A rough 2021 season is a greater reflection on bad coaching and insufficient talent around him than the young quarterback’s skills. One evident thing from watching Chicago in 2021, it needed pass-catchers who could get open quickly to help Fields become more comfortable with quick throws.

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster contract projection: 1 year, $9.25 million

There are also some important stats to keep in mind with the former USC wide receiver. Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks posted a 101.7 passer rating when targeting Smith-Schuster in 2020 (PFF). He also turned 49.4% of his catches into first downs. Smith-Schuster and Fields could develop chemistry throughout the offseason and summer practices, before racking up stats next season.

Baltimore Ravens

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
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There is plenty of history between Smith-Schuster and the Ravens. While his antics might bother some, Baltimore’s locker room also knows he can make plays and help this team win. Slot receiver is also one of the Ravens’ needs, with Rashod Bateman and Marquise Brown on the outside. Baltimore offered him more money than Pittsburgh in 2021, but he turned it down out of concern from the backlash among Pittsburgh’s fans.

After everything that transpired in the past two seasons, how fans perceive him should no longer be a worry. The Ravens are an excellent fit for Smith-Schuster and he’d provide a nice boost for Lamar Jackson.

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