Will the Pittsburgh Steelers ultimately be able to re-sign wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 17? We’ll find out the answer to that question in a little more than five weeks from today. In the meantime, however, several major media sites are now doing heavy speculation on where the higher profile 2021 soon-to-be unrestricted free agents might best fit and ESPN.com is one of them.
In their Tuesday offering dedicated to best fits for their perceived top 50 NFL free agents in 2021, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN has Smith-Schuster linked to the New York Jets as his best fit. Here is what Fowler wrote about linking Smith-Schuster to the Jets this offseason.
Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will be looking for a yards-after-catch demon with toughness, explosion and blocking for his 49ers-based system (think: Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk). Smith-Schuster would fit as a do-it-all option opposite Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder. He’s not as fast as Samuel or Aiyuk but posted 409 yards after the catch last season, tops among free-agent receivers.
The Jets are taking a look at Smith-Schuster and Will Fuller V at the top of the market, as well as second-tier options such as restricted free agent Zach Pascal.
Linking Smith-Schuster to the Jets seems to be a popular choice so far this season and that’s likely because the team’s quarterback is still currently Sam Darnold. Smith-Schuster and Darnold were teammates in college at USC. Smith-Schuster’s recent comments about Darnold during a radio interview ahead of Super Bowl LV also make him easy to link to the Jets this offseason.
Speaking with Bart Scott and Alan Hahn on their podcast earlier this month, it’s no surprise that he was asked about the possibility of coming to New York and playing with Darnold. “Definitely, Sam Darnold, that chemistry is something that we had” Smith Schuster said in his interview with Bart Scott and Alan Hahn on their podcast earlier this month. “We probably never lost that chemistry. I think that would be cool to play with my former quarterback.”
Will Darnold still be a member of the Jets by the time March 17 rolls around? We’ll see as there have been rumors that the Jets might be trying to trade him since their offseason started. The Jets currently have the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and many draftniks already expect them to select a quarterback in that spot if they stay put.
Pro Football Focus has also already linked Smith-Schuster to the Jets this offseason and they went as far as to predict the Steelers former second-round selection will sign a contract with some team that averages around $17 million per season.
Smith-Schuster isn’t the only Steelers player in Fowlers top 50 free agents of 2021 as outside linebacker Bud Dupree is listed seventh overall. Fowler has the Tennessee Titans as the best fit for Dupree this offseason and below is his reasoning for that.
The Titans are desperate for pass-rush help, and Dupree won’t fall flat like Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley did there. Plus, Tennessee might get a slight discount (key word: slight) with Dupree recovering from a torn ACL that could hamper his early-season production. Dupree proved to be a beast the past two years. The Steelers want to keep him but are $33 million over the cap.
Fowler also has Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva on his list of top 50 free agents of 2021, and he has the former army captain fitting with the Los Angeles Chargers if not re-signed by the Steelers. Below is what he wrote about Villanueva possibly landing with the Chargers in a little more than five weeks from now.
Los Angeles has a major need at left tackle with Sam Tevi hitting free agency. Villanueva would be an upgrade, and though his best fit might be Pittsburgh, the Steelers probably won’t be aggressive spenders. Villanueva is 32 but has only six seasons of tread as a starter, so he’s still fresh, and his 74.6 Pro Football Focus grade is solid. Villanueva’s offensive line coach in Pittsburgh, Shaun Sarrett, landed an assistant O-line job with Los Angeles this offseason.
Will the Steelers be able to retain any of Smith-Schuster, Dupree, or Villanueva. Of the three, Smith-Schuster probably has the best shot at being re-signed by the Steelers in the next five weeks and especially if the 2021 NFL salary cap number comes in at $185 million or more. Needless to say, it will be interesting to watch how things play out with the Steelers long list of unrestricted free agents this offseason that not only includes Smith-Schuster, Dupree, and Villanueva but cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton as well.