You already read the title before going in, so you know exactly what this is going to be about, and you know exactly what the reactions are going to be in the comments section, but we have to get through this together anyway, so let’s begin.
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is among the most significant names heading into the free agency market for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a couple of months. The four-year veteran recorded more than 300 receptions for 3700-plus yards and 26 touchdowns since being selected in the second round in 2017, making the Pro Bowl in 2018.
After posting a career-high nine touchdown receptions in 2020, Smith-Schuster followed that up with a 13-catch, 157-yard performance in the Steelers’ postseason loss this weekend that was capped off with another touchdown grab.
Even though he plays a critical part in the team’s offense, they have drafted three other receivers high in the three drafts after taking him, most notably Diontae Johnson in 2019 and Chase Claypool last year, who threatened Smith-Schuster’s 917-yard team rookie receiving yardage record and broke or tied other team rookie records.
While the Steelers would like to re-sign the 24-year old, the financial realities make things difficult, and according to Gerry Dulac, there could be other complications at play in determining where he wants to play in 2021 and beyond.
Writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dulac claims sources in saying that “Smith-Schuster would like to play in a major market where he could expand his off-field brand and burgeoning social-media presence”.
Presumably, the vast majority of players would prefer to play in a major market that would allow them to expand their brand, e.g. give them opportunities to make more money. That doesn’t necessarily mean that determines their free agency decisions.
Smith-Schuster, of course, is a prominent social media user and brand ambassador, and there’s no doubt that Steelers fans will immediately accept the plausibility of what Dulac wrote. He has been making money through sponsors since his rookie year, so that’s not exactly surprising.
Even Claypool has talked about how one of the biggest influences that Smith-Schuster has had on him this season was with his off-field advice about how to build your brand. It’s obvious that this is a significant part of the conversation for him—as it is for many, many professional athletes, and for the majority of people who are in the public sector and have an opportunity to exploit their identity for profit.