Report: Steelers to let JuJu Smith-Schuster hit free agency next offseason?

NFL free agents: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Dec 15, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster warms up before playing the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster quickly emerged as one of the NFL’s best, young receivers following his first two NFL seasons. Despite the 23-year-old putting his impressive talents on display, though, the Steelers could potentially let Smith-Schuster test free agency next offseason.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Smith-Schuster is eligible for a contract extension and the Steelers could also apply the franchise tag to him next offseason. However, The Athletic’s Ed Bouchette said he believes the Steelers will allow their young receiver to test the open market and not place the franchise tag on him in 2021.

Coming off a breakout season in 2018 with 1,426 receiving yards, Smith-Schuster saw a significant production drop in 2019. He finished the season with only 552 receiving yards and three touchdowns, while also drawing 96 fewer targets than he saw the previous year.

While the Steelers might have some reservations about making Smith-Schuster one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers after his underwhelming year, the production issues shouldn’t fall on the star receiver. Ben Roethlisberger played in only two games this past season. The rest of the year, Smith-Schuster had to catch passes from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges.

Roethlisberger is progressing nicely from elbow surgery and should be ready to return when the 2020 NFL season begins. When he’s back on the field, Smith-Schuster’s production will skyrocket and he can prove himself once again. If that isn’t enough to change the Steelers’ mind, they might need to prepare to lose a talented receiver next offseason.