We’ll be breaking down all the major and minor moves for NFL Free Agency with grades and analysis. You can find the comprehensive list of moves and grades here.
Reported deal: One year/$8 million
With a slow market for wide receivers, the one-year deals continue to roll in. The latest was a one-year/$8 million deal for JuJu Smith-Schuster to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith-Schuster reportedly had other offers from the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs, but elected to return to Pittsburgh.
As most of the 2020 Steelers offense returns — one that ranked 22nd in offensive DVOA — Pittsburgh will have to figure out how to change what didn’t work last season. Smith-Schuster saw 128 targets in 2020 and 80 of them came between 1-10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Among wide receivers and tight ends with at least 43 targets (NFL Next Gen Stats’ leaderboard cutoff) the only players with an aDOT lower than Smith-Schuster’s 5.8 yards were Jonnu Smith (5.7), Drew Sample (4.5), and Brandon Aiyuk (2.1).
Part of this was the structure of the offense. No quarterback got the ball out quicker than Ben Roethlisberger in 2020 (2.3 seconds) and he had the fourth-lowest average depth of completion, per Next Gen Stats.
Among 41 players with at least 100 targets, Smith-Schuster’s 8.6 yards per reception ranked ahead of only J.D. McKissic (7.4). Alvin Kamara was the next-lowest at 9.1.
Smith-Schuster was a high-volume short target in 2018 with 87 passes thrown his way between 1-10 yards but he combined that with 20 targets on passes thrown 20 yards or more with eight catches, 366 yards, and two touchdowns, according to Sports Info Solutions. In 2020, Smith-Schuster saw just five deep targets for two catches and 56 yards, though both went for touchdowns.
Roethlisberger had trouble with the deep ball, which hindered some of the receiving production, but if this is a one-year deal in an attempt to reset Smith-Schuster’s market, there will need to be a significantly more efficient usage in the offense.