JuJu Smith-Schuster bids adieu to Pittsburgh, a sign that his career with Steelers may be coming to an end

It doesn’t look like JuJu Smith-Schuster will be part of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ plans for the 2022 season. The former Pro Bowl receiver and team MVP bid adieu to Pittsburgh via his Instagram story on Monday. Smith-Schuster, who is slated to enter free agency next month, posted “It’s been real, Pitt!” along with a video of a moving truck, his car and an apartment complex. 

A free agent last offseason, Smith-Schuster turned down offers from the Chiefs and Ravens to sign a one-year deal to remain with the Steelers. Ironically, Smith-Schuster faced one of the teams that he turned down in the wild card round of the AFC playoffs. Roughly three months after undergoing shoulder surgery, Smith-Schuster caught five passes in Pittsburgh’s season-ending loss to the Chiefs in the wild card round. 

Smith-Schuster expressed his desire to remain in Pittsburgh immediately following the Steelers’ loss to the Chiefs. He again reiterated his desire to re-sign with the Steelers via his Twitter account a day after the game. 

“I’ve said it before and have the same stance: I’d love to be Pittsburgh for life,” Smith-Schuster wrote. “I hope we can make this happen this offseason and I want to be part of this franchise’s return to glory. It’s not a matter of if, but when, and I hope I’m wearing the black and gold, celebrating a Super Bowl with these fans, when it happens.” 

A 2017 second-round pick out of USC, Smith-Schuster quickly burst on to the scene during his first season in Pittsburgh. After scoring eight touchdowns as a rookie, Smith-Schuster set career highs with 111 receptions for 1,426 yards during his second season. In 2020, Smith-Schuster caught a career-high nine touchdowns while helping the Steelers return to the playoffs after a two-year absence. He credited coach Mike Tomlin as one of the main reasons why he decided to stay in Pittsburgh last offseason instead of signing elsewhere. 

“I love that man,” Smith-Schuster said of Tomlin, who this season set an NFL record by starting his head coaching career with 15 consecutive non-losing seasons. “He was a lot of the reason why I stayed in Pittsburgh for one more year. Playing for a guy like that is someone you want to play for. He’s one of those coaches that if you mess up, you don’t want him to be disappointed or upset with you because you value him so much. It’s kind of like you don’t want to bring home bad grades because you don’t want to make your parents disappointed because you care about that person so much.”

Along with his coach and teammates, Smith-Schuster has built a connection with the city and the Steelers’ passionate fan base. He has poured considerable time and energy into giving back to Pittsburgh through his foundation

“It’s just my personality and just being myself,” Smith-Schuster said of his close bond with the Pittsburgh community. “Embracing the city, being able to go to Penguins and Pirates games. I’ve had so many fans come up to me and tell me, ‘Hey JuJu, regardless of if you’re here next year or you go somewhere else, we’ll always support you. We may not wear that colored jersey, but we’ll always be JuJu fans.’ Stuff like that goes a long way because it means so much. Hopefully, the fans have an impact on where I play next year.” 

While his production has dipped in recent years, the still just 25-year-old Smith-Schuster will likely have several suitors on the open market. Two of those teams could be the Ravens and Chiefs, who tried to lure Smith-Schuster away from Pittsburgh last offseason. 

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