Earlier this offseason, coveted wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster decided to re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a one-year deal. Offers from the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens piqued his interest before taking less money to play with Ben Roethlisberger for at least one more season.
This week, I spoke with JuJu about why he decided to re-sign with the Steelers, what he thinks the future holds for Big Ben and the one quarterback he’d like to play with – if he does decide to leave Pittsburgh.
Here’s what he had to say in our interview, presented by Charmin:
The Spun: Earlier this offseason you decided to re-sign with the Steelers on a one-year deal. But you mentioned the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens as potential landing spots. How close were you to actually signing with a different team?
JuJu Smith-Schuster: I was pretty close with the Chiefs. The biggest thing was, you know, one thing that I wanted from the Steelers – and it’s not money. It’s just more, I would say the respect. But at the end of the day it’s all business. You just have to see it like that – whether you’re fan or not – you have to honor and respect what’s best for him. And for me, I took less money to stay.
TS: I assume Ben Roethlisberger had something to do with you staying with the Steelers.
JuJu: Yeah, I don’t think Ben would have let me walk anywhere. He said ‘call him’ before I sign anything. And out of respect, you know, I did that. Because for the past four years he’s taken care of me.
TS: Big Ben has a lot of critics, especially recently, but you must feel good about him as the starting quarterback if you decided to pass up an opportunity to play alongside Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. What would you say to those who think Ben can’t get it done any more?
JuJu: Yeah man. People are always going to say ‘yeah man he’s done, he has one more year.’ But at the end of the day, I mean, I’ve seen him work in the offseason. I’ve seen him do what he does at the end of the day. I think our team can be very special with the guys were drafted and the same coaches we have and having a new offensive coordinator is going to work out perfectly fine.
TS: Do you expect Big Ben to keep playing after the 2021 season? Is that your expectation? Or did you sign a one-year deal know that he might not be there?
JuJu: I know that Ben has one more year on his contract. I know that I’m on a one-year deal. And that’s just what I’m basing it off of. If it was where Ben was playing more years and the cap was different, maybe I sign more years with the Steelers.
TS: You mentioned that Pittsburgh decided to move on from Randy Fichtner and to Matt Canada. What did you think about the move and have you had a chance to talk to Matt about the new offense?
JuJu: I think it was a move that has been done [across the league]. You know, I said ‘it is what it is’ and Matt is the new OC. I’ve talked to him about the offense and we actually do have meetings even now, with virtual and everything. He’s brought up the new offensive plan and everything. It’s going pretty well and I think everyone’s happy with it and for us to be able to draft more weapons on offense it just shows that we’re not playing around.
TS: There are major question marks with the Steelers offensive line. Losing guys like Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva has fans worried. Do you think the team did enough to address the offensive line heading into the 2021 season?
JuJu: That’s tough, man. I can’t really speak on that because for me, I’m not really sure. The guys up front, the guys that we have now like DeCastro is probably the most respected guy on our offensive line. It’s tough to say. Honestly, all those guys that we picked up let’s just say that actions speak louder than words.
TS: Losing someone like Pouncey is obviously a big blow on the field, but he’s a good leader in the locker room. Is it up to you and some of the younger guys now to step up?
JuJu: Man, I’m going to do my job, I’m going to step up. Put some heels on, get taller, put my chest out there, might do some bench every morning just to let everybody know. I’m definitely going to step up. Man, how I see it is that Big Ben coming back, him being the vet he is. Dave [DeCastro] is a quiet dude, but it will be interesting to see if he talks more. For myself I’ve always had a saying of ‘let my actions speak louder than my words.’
TS: Not only did you guys lose pieces from the offense, but lost a major piece in Bud Dupree on the defense. A loss like that, what does that do for the rest of the defense – and for that matter the offense too.
JuJu: Yeah, I mean he was an asset for us on the defensive side opposite TJ [Watt]. A true dual-threat [in the run and pass game]. But at the end of the day he did what was best for him and he got paid and he’s actually on a decent team where he can go out there and ball out and do his thing. So congrats to him, but at the end of the day I think losing a guy like that is a huge loss for our defense, but we’ve got [Alex] Highsmith coming in and doing what he does. I think we have a bunch of other guys on defense who are going to step up.
TS: Speaking of Highsmith, he flashed a lot over the last half of his rookie season after Dupree went down. What are you expecting from him in Year 2?
JuJu: He’s one of those dudes who just doesn’t say anything. He just works. Walk in the hallway and it’s just [quietly] ‘yo, what’s up man.’ He’s always one of the first ones there. He’s probably in there right now working out. Virtual workouts, you know offseason workouts he’s there constantly. He’s a guy that doesn’t say too much and just works and that’s what I love about him. So I don’t expect to see him come out and ball out, because that’s something that we already know. He’s been doing it since those last eight weeks.
TS: There was a lot of hype around JJ Watt joining the Steelers and teaming up with his brother. Did you expect him to sign with the Steelers over another team before the Cardinals came out of nowhere?
JuJu: Man, that would have been lit. I thought it would have been cool, honestly. I think DeAndre Hopkins had a huge part in that and it’s a great fit for him. I can’t knock him for where he’s going and that defense, he just adds to it even more. It would have been cool to have the Watt brothers all on the same team.
TS: Pittsburgh selected Najee Harris with its first-round pick. What did you think about the pick and what are you expecting from the Alabama kid?
JuJu: That’s what I expected. I expected us to draft and running back and go with Najee, who can come in and ball because he’s such a great player. He’s someone that I could see, even when I was recruiting him in college to go to USC because he’s from NorCal. He was so close, but then he ended up going to Alabama and now we’re reunited and I think he’s going to be a great asset to our team and I can’t wait to see what he can do.
TS: Is there someone from the draft that the Steelers did not select that you would have liked to play with?
JuJu: Oh man, I think playing with Kyle Pitts would have been dope. I ain’t going to lie to you, he’s like a hybrid tight end that can play inside and outside. He can block, he’s very aggressive and just a dog.
TS: You’re playing on a one-year contract. What do you think your future holds with the Steelers?
JuJu: I mean, I hope it all pans out and the salary cap is a lot higher. Depending on how it all pans out, I was to stay for another four years and it will be nine years with one team. I mean, it’s a rarity to stay on one team for a very long time – unless you’re a franchise quarterback.
TS: That’s true especially for the Steelers too, who rarely had out second contracts like that.
JuJu: They really don’t and I doubt they’ll hand out this third one so we’ll see how that goes.
TS: If you decide to leave after this year, is there one quarterback in the NFL you’d like to play with in particular?
JuJu: Aaron Rodgers.
TS: Is he going to be with the Packers though?
JuJu: To be honest, I don’t even know. I mean they’re talking about Raiders and Broncos. I mean, I don’t know we’ll see how that all ends up.
TS: So, why Aaron Rodgers?
JuJu: I just think he’s got that, I grew up watching Aaron Rodgers and he’s just that that swag to him. Like, just drippy, like shaggy like quick throw the ball and move around the pocket – he’s nice with it.
TS: Tell me about what you’re doing with Charmin.
JuJu: Basically with Charmin, what they’re doing is creating something call the “BRB Bot” and what you do is create these AI pre-recordings to show that, instead of interrupting meetings and zoom calls, and you just turn on this AI bot and it’s there for you to go use the bathroom and enjoy the go. That’s basically what it is and I think it’s a great asset for all of us to use in big meetings for some of use that are going and leaving you just hit the bot and the pre-recording is there and you just do what you gotta do. Number one, number two or number three – whatever that is.
Smith-Schuster plans to be with the Steelers for years to come – if they’ll have him. After leading the team in received for much of his rookie contract, he looks to do so once again in 2021.