It is a rarity in the NFL — but on occasion, a significant move such as a trade can work out for both sides of the equation. At least through eight games, both the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins have to feel that way about Miami’s trade for wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
In exchange for five future draft picks, the Dolphins received Hill, who has already exceeded 1,100 yards on the season. Miami hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2016. Based on Hill’s performance — and the breakout of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — that seems likely to change this year.
On the other side, Kansas City was able to invest in its future with its draft selections. General manager Brett Veach was tasked with finding affordable ways to replace Hill’s production. A key part of that was signing wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year deal to be the second option beyond tight end Travis Kelce.
It took a bit for the 25-year-old to become a go-to guy for quarterback Patrick Mahomes — but over the last three games, he has emerged as just that. Over that span, Mahomes has targeted Smith-Schuster 25 times, connecting with him on 22 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think the guy opposite Kelce is an important part of this offense,” explained head coach Andy Reid on Monday afternoon. “When Sammy [Watkins] was here that was important. You saw [Byron] Pringle kind of work into that. And it’s hard to explain exactly why without giving all the things away, but just having that balance there is important — and JuJu fits into that well. He’s got a great feel for space, and he’s fast enough where he can still do your down-the-field stuff.
“His change-of-direction’s good — all those things. So you get a similar element opposite Kelce. And again, that balance is important for us.”
Smith-Schuster credits his success during the last three games to being able to play fast now that he has an understanding of the playbook. The wide receiver — whose best season came as the No. 2 option to Antonio Brown in 2018 — knows that playing next to Kelce doesn’t hurt, either.
“Unbelievable player,” said Smith-Schuster of Kelce. “Very, very smart. I think one of the best things I like about Trav is that he’s able to identify the defense and what coverage they’re in. And then I pretty much know, too, so we kind of just work hand-in-hand — that communication of not a lot of talking, but just playing with our pads and just playing with leverage — a man team versus a zone team, and that’s something we’ve been doing.”
Look no further for the confidence Mahomes has in Smith-Schuster than this past game against the Tennesse Titans, when the Chiefs opted to keep the offense on the field when facing fourth-and-1 at the Titans’ 14-yard line in overtime.
Lining up to Mahomes’ left, Smith-Schuster ran an inside-outside return route and — knowing he was open — he actually raised his hand for a slight second before the quarterback delivered the football: first down in an eventual 20-17 overtime win.
“We wanted to get to the perfect play call,” explained Mahomes. “They actually did a pretty good job of covering the front side read of that play, but once that linebacker – that whole player kind of pushed over towards Trav — I knew JuJu was one-on-one on that back side. So just trusting your guys to make plays and JuJu ran a good route, caught the ball and got the first down.”
Smith-Schuster’s 10-catch, 88-yard effort put him over the 40-reception, 500-yard mark on the season, triggering $1 million in incentives. He’s currently signed to a one-year, $3.8 million contract, according to Spotrac.
Given the recent change to the 17-game schedule, the halfway mark of the NFL season happens this Sunday at halftime — in the middle of the Chiefs’ ninth game of the year. With no allotted halftime interview for players, gathering Smith-Schuster’s feelings on how it’s gone as a Chief so far right before the halfway mark is the next best thing.
Based upon his Thursday comments, he does not want to play elsewhere in 2023.
“I would love to stay here, to be honest,” said Smith-Schuster. “This offense is unbelievable. The coaching staff is unbelievable. If it was up to me, of course. Why not? You get to play with one of the best quarterbacks in the game.”
The former Pittsburgh Steeler recalled what led him to Kansas City in the first place.
“I knew it was a high-powered offense just looking at numbers. Coming here, it’s kind of like last year, we were kind of doing the same thing — they were talking about it as far as like this is what [their] offense [is], this is what they’re doing. And actually, now being here and actually being in it, it’s... yeah.”
582 yards, two touchdowns, a 6-2 record and almost no perfect way to describe how much he has enjoyed being in Kansas City.
It’s just... yeah — and whatever that means, most Chiefs fans would agree.