Steelers need to target this JuJu Smith-Schuster replacement in free agency

JuJu Smith-Schuster wants to stay with the Steelers, but Pittsburgh doesn’t want to pay him. Here’s the perfect free agent to replace him. 

The Steelers are facing a challenging offseason that will force them to relinquish some stars to free agency. JuJu Smith-Schuster may be the biggest star slated to leave Pittsburgh in the coming weeks. The team’s offense needs to replace him with the right veteran if they want to remain a playoff team in 2021.

The franchise prides itself on drafting high-quality wideouts, but they shouldn’t risk replacing Smith-Schuster with an unproven rookie. Instead, the Steelers need to scour the free agent market for a young veteran capable of replacing Smith-Schuster’s production at a fraction of the cost.

The team’s front office needs look no further than Curtis Samuel. The Panthers’ free agent is the perfect guy to take Smith-Schuster’s spot on the roster and help keep Pittsburgh’s offense humming. The sheer quantity of big-name wideouts in this free agent class should help keep Samuel’s price tag inside the Steelers’ budget.

Samuel isn’t going to serve as a like-for-like replacement for Smith-Schuster on the outside. The Steelers can comfortably expect Chase Claypool to take over that starting spot in his sophomore campaign. Samuel can give Pittsburgh a dangerous weapon to deploy in the slot and in their backfield on a regular basis.

As a wide receiver, Samuel is a classic slot guy who can turn short throws into long gains. That might actually undersell his ability to run a diverse route tree. He might not catch 100 balls at any point during his NFL career, but there’s no reason to think he can’t be an above-average starting slot receiver throughout the remainder of his prime.

Where Samuel can really differentiate himself from other players in this class is with his versatility. The Panthers frequently used him as a running back in 2020 to help fill-in for Christian McCaffrey. He responded by showing big-play ability as a rusher on the perimeter. Combine that with his ability to be an exceptional route-runner from the running back spot and it’s easy to see how that can help him rack up yards in Pittsburgh.

Steelers fans might long for the days when Smith-Schuster caught long bombs from Ben Roethlisberger on a regular basis. That’s not the future of this offense. Big Ben’s declining arm strength puts pressure on Pittsburgh to surround him with guys who can make opposing defenders miss near the line of scrimmage. That’s why Smith is the perfect replacement for Smith-Schuster.

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