While much of the action in free agency happens right off the bat during the legal tampering period, this year’s wide receiver market bucked the trend. Many of the available wideouts played the waiting game, as they were attempting to see what other players in their position would get, and potentially increase their earnings as a result. However, the wide receiver market never really developed the way it was expected to, causing it to take time to develop. A week after free agency began, most of the top wideouts are off the board, with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kenny Golladay being the latest to ink new deals, albeit very different deals to say the least.
After JuJu Smith-Schuster seemed set to depart Pittsburgh, he changed course, and resigned with the Steelers on Friday, signing a one-year $8 million deal. JuJu was very active in his search for a new home, as he reportedly had deals on the table from the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, and Kansas City Chiefs, all of which would have paid him more than what he got from Pittsburgh. Smith-Schuster opted to take a hometown discount, and his return was widely celebrated by the Pittsburgh fanbase and his teammates alike, showing that his presence off the field has had just as big an impact as his on field presence. He always seemed to want to return to Pittsburgh, but it appeared as if the Steelers cap situation would prevent them from giving JuJu a deal of his liking. Despite that, the Steelers were able to keep their top wideout, which is a huge win considering how bleak things appeared coming into the offseason.
JuJu played 84% of the Steelers offensive snaps last season and has proven to be a vital part of the offense. Even without posting a 100-yard game in 2020, JuJu consistently provided chunk plays and big touchdowns in situations where he was called upon, with his touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16 a prime example of his impact. He is also a very physical player for his position, with his huge block against then Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict in 2017 earning him some leaguewide recognition. Smith-Schuster is also versatile in where he plays, as can be used as an outside or slot option depending on what package the Steelers employ. Retaining JuJu should help keep Ben Roethlisberger happy, and hopefully the Steelers offense will continue to produce as a result. JuJu stayed loyal to Pittsburgh, and as a result is banking on himself to cash out in free agency next season when the salary cap is expected to spike back up.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kenny Golladay signed a massive four-year $72 million deal with the New York Giants. Factoring in incentives, Golladay can earn a max of $76 million if everything goes right, but has $40 million guaranteed, so he got paid either way you look at it. Golladay had been a very productive player for the Detroit Lions over the last four years, as he developed into an elite pass catcher throughout his time there, helping him earn this huge deal. Golladay does have a somewhat extensive injury history, with the most recent being a hip injury that kept him sidelined for 11 games during the 2020 season. Despite that, he played over 80% of Detroit’s offensive plays in both 2018 and 2019 while accumulating 1,000+ yards in both campaigns along the way, so he has shown he can be a dependable receiver when healthy. Like JuJu, Kenny can play in the slot or outside depending on what he’s needed for. His route running ability at all three levels of the field makes him a constant mismatch, especially considering he’s 6 foot 4 too. New York is finally getting a true number one receiver after being forced to make due with much less in previous seasons.
Golladay brings a skillset to New York that they haven’t had since Odell Beckham Jr.’s time with the Giants. Golladay can create separation pretty consistently, and he does a great job at keeping defenders behind him so he has a better chance of catching the ball. He’s been a huge help to whoever’s throwing him passes, as he has a fantastic catch radius, often hauling in contested catches or passes that aren’t necessarily on the mark. The former third-round pick will join an offense that is headlined by Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Darius Slayton, and QB Daniel Jones. Golladay’s capabilities as a number one wide receiver will help the offense function better than it ever has. Not only will the passing game open up as a result, but it will help open up the running lanes for Saquon Barkley and the run game as well. It will be interesting to see if the New York Giants offense can finally reach their full potential now that they’ve added Golladay to the fold.
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