Would JuJu Smith-Schuster fill the need for commanders at WR? – NBC4 Washington

NFL Free Agency: Would JuJu fill the need for commanders at WR? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

* With the Super Bowl in the past and the 2021 season on the books, NBC Sports Washington’s Ethan Cadeau and Matt Weyrich take a look at potential free agents the Washington Commanders could benefit from signing this offseason. Next step: examine the potential adjustment of JuJu Smith-Schuster.

At this time in 2021, the wide receiver was one of the greatest needs of the Washington football team at the time. Ron Rivera and his team made a concerted effort to improve the position last offseason, signing Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries in free agency and using a third-round pick in Dyami Brown.

A year later, the franchise changed its name. But, commanders still have the same problem at the receiver.

Samuel struggled with injuries throughout the season and finished 2021 with just six receptions in five games. Brown also struggled at times and finished his rookie campaign with just 12 catches. Humphries was the best addition to the group, as he proved to be a reliable third target for Taylor Heinicke. However, he is expected to be a free agent this offseason and there is no guarantee he will return.

So, again, wide receiver remains a position that needs help for Washington this offseason. Still, with Samuel’s $12.9 million cap hit next season and hopefully – in Washington’s case – an extension of Terry McLaurin, spending a lot of money in free agency on someone like Chris Godwin or Mike Williams might not be an option.

Enter, JuJu Smith-Schuster.

The Steelers wide receiver is just three seasons away from a 111-catch, 1,400-yard season in 2018, but that certainly feels like an eternity. Since then, Smith-Schuster has suffered multiple injuries — most of which have been out of play — and suffered a shoulder ailment this year that cost him all but five regular-season games.

Don’t let injuries or his infamous TikTok stream fool you, though, Smith-Schuster are as tough as they come between the lines. Last season, he returned prematurely from a dislocated shoulder to play in Pittsburgh’s Wild Card game against the Chiefs. Although the Steelers lost, Smith-Schuster’s tenacity was praised by many of his teammates and fans.

In Washington, Smith-Schuster would slip right into the starting slot receiver role. His height – listed at 6ft 1in and 215lbs. – allows him to physically dominate smaller nickel cornerbacks and be a reliable target for anyone under center in the short-to-mid passing game.

Overall, having someone like Smith-Schuster in the roster would only benefit the rest of Washington’s receiving corps.

Let’s start with Washington’s real No. 1 in McLaurin. The 26-year-old has proven he can be incredibly effective in the short passing game – his YAC speaks for itself. But McLaurin’s speed and big-play ability are two of the strongest parts of his skill set. He hasn’t been able to show that as much in the last two seasons, but adding a guy like Smith-Schuster would certainly open up more eyes on the court for Washington’s outstanding passer.

The same also goes for Brown, who led all of college football in combined contested strikes during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. That ability didn’t exactly translate to the NFL for Brown as a rookie, but the Adding a talented and self-confident slots receiver to Smith-Schuster should only open up more eyes on the court for big plays.

Additionally, signing Smith-Schuster would also allow Washington to get even more creative with Samuel. In Carolina, Samuel lined up all over the court, whether it was on the outside, in the slot or even in the backfield. Having Samuel and Smith-Schuster on the field at the same time would give offensive coordinator Scott Turner even more versatile pieces to move around and unbalance opposing defenses.

It all goes without saying that Smith-Schuster is still only 25 years old. In fact, he’s even younger than McLaurin despite entering the NFL two seasons earlier. Smith-Schuster still has a lot of good football ahead of him.

Contractually, Smith-Schuster also makes sense for Washington. After missing most of 2021, the wide will likely be offered one-year deals, proven by many clubs. Pro Football Focus projects Smith-Schuster to sign a one-year contract worth $8 million, a price Washington can certainly afford, especially considering the skills they would pick up.

Last spring, Smith-Schuster reportedly turned down more money from the Ravens and Chiefs to stay in Pittsburgh. These two teams should also be in the mix for the wide out this offseason as well. And, what Baltimore and Kansas City have going for them over Washington is that they each have a franchise quarterback. Who Washington will have under center in Week 1 remains a mystery, which is why solving this issue before free agency is a priority.

At this point in his career, Smith-Schuster has proven his ability to rack up big numbers in high-level offenses, but hasn’t necessarily been a player capable of individually transforming an entire unit. So for offshore, teams like Baltimore, Kansas City, Green Bay and more will likely be more appealing.

However, Washington still makes a lot of sense for Smith-Schuster. And, it’s important to note that Commanders can also offer him a bigger role in his offense than other Clubs. At the very least, inquiring about Smith-Schuster interest is a must for Washington when the moratorium period to begin free agency begins.

Christy J. Olson