Last offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs were looking for a big, physical third pass-catcher — and all indications were that the apple of their eye was then-Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
As the story goes, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid got Smith-Schuster’s phone number and began texting him photos of the Lombardi Trophy. In his own playful way, Reid was telling the receiver that if he came to Kansas City, he would be provided the opportunity to win a championship.
“It’s one thing for a head coach who just won the Lombardi Trophy, and for them to text me personally, it means a lot,” said Smith-Schuster during his opening press conference as a Chief on Sunday. “Going into this year’s process, KC has been on me for the past two years. Obviously, I feel welcome here and appreciated. So, coming here and having the opportunity to play here for him is a great experience.”
This time around, Smith-Schuster chose the Chiefs, agreeing to a one-year deal with the club on Friday. The receiver explained how he’s looking forward to 2022 after a shoulder injury cost him most of his 2021 season. Playing only five regular-season games, he recorded just 15 catches for 129 yards, the lowest output of his five-year career.
Smith-Schuster rehabbed extremely hard to make it back in time for one final game in a Steelers uniform, a 42-21 loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the Wild Card Round. He had five catches for 26 yards in the return.
In his next game at Arrowhead, he will be playing for the home team, wearing a red No. 9 jersey.
“It’s good to be on the other side, finally,” he said. “I think for myself, I love Pittsburgh, the fanbase is amazing there, they took me in for about five years and obviously coming into this year, although playing my last game with Pittsburgh in Arrowhead and starting off my new season in Arrowhead, it’s going to be unbelievable. I’ve heard the fanbase is amazing, so I can’t wait to embrace them.”
Smith-Schuster said that he spoke to quarterback Patrick Mahomes during his free-agency process, and he noted that they have had a relationship for a while. The only quarterback he has known as a pro is Ben Roethlisberger, who retired this offseason.
So now he will go from catching balls from one Super Bowl champion to another.
“It was a big part of the process,” said Smith-Schuster of picking his next QB. “You go into free agency, and you find out who’s going to be throwing you the ball next year. It came down to Pat, and I’m excited. I’m happy with my decision.”
As Reid pushed in last year’s text messages, the Chiefs will afford him the opportunity to win, as Kansas City hasn’t posted a season with less than 10 wins since 2014. That has a lot to do with Reid and Mahomes — but also the talent around them.
Smith-Schuster chose the Chiefs well aware of Mahomes’ top two targets in wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, as well as Kansas City’s own version of a wide back in Mecole Hardman.
“You come into a team where they’ve got guys who can stretch the field, guys that have been here doing it for quite some time now,” said Smith-Schuster. “For me, I made the decision to come here to win. I’m all about winning. I’m all about what I can do to help the team and produce. This year you’ll see that. You’ll see that obviously they have Tyreek, Travis and Mecole and all those guys, they’ll still make their plays. And the plays that I do get, I’ll want to make them too. Like I said, I’m here to win.”
At 6 feet 1 and 215 pounds, Smith-Schuster presents the type of target the Chiefs have been sorely missing since last year’s offseason departure of Sammy Watkins — and Smith-Schuster has proven to be more durable. Smith-Schuster played in at least 12 games every season before the freak shoulder injury in 2021.
In two of those years — 2018 and 2020 — he started every game. 2018’s season as the complement to Antonio Brown saw him go for more than 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. He brings size and physicality to the position that the Chiefs could have used last year.
“I’m a different type of guy; I’m a little bit more built,” he said. “You’ve got Tyreek and Mecole, speedster guys who can run down the field. I’m the type of guy, great hands, a little bit like Travis, great hands, big dude that can run and block, physical blocking in the run game. There’s so much I can do to help this team.”
Smith-Schuster spent the weekend in Kansas City, and through these first few days, it almost feels as though he has been a Chief for a long time. Maybe it’s because there’s an idea that it should have happened last year.
We’ll never know how the Chiefs’ season would have played out had this decision come then, but the receiver says he has no regrets. It is a shame, though, as there is an awful lot about Kansas City to like.
“I just had Q39,” he smiled. “It was really good.”
Sounds like he’s off to a fast start in learning that.