When the Kansas City Chiefs signed wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year contract last offseason, an agreement had been a year in the making. Kansas City general manager Brett Veach and the Chiefs first tried to sign the him ahead of the 2021 season.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid wanted him so badly that he infamously obtained Smith-Schuster’s cell number and began texting him photos of the Lombardi Trophy. At that time, the texts did not work; the wide receiver chose to stay loyal to the team that drafted him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But the attempt is amusing to think about right now, considering where Reid and Smith-Schuster find themselves: in Glendale, Arizona, set to take on the Philadelphia Eagles for that Lombardi Trophy.
Chuckling during the Chiefs’ media hour Wednesday morning, Smith-Schuster retold the story.
“He was sending me the Lombardi Trophy, like, ‘Hey. Come here. Let’s win a Super Bowl. This is what we’re chasing.’
“Fast forward. Here we are. It’s really cool to have a coach believe in you and actually come here to want you to help be a part of this progress and where we’re at.”
An argument can be made that the Chiefs needed Smith-Schuster more for this season than last — when now-Miami Dolphin Tyreek Hill was still a member of Kansas City’s roster. Sure, the Chiefs missed Hill and his 1,710 receiving yards at times, but in Smith-Schuster and company, they found another way to win 14 regular-season games, following it with Divisional Round and AFC Championship wins.
“I think the really cool thing about our group is that with Tyreek leaving, I think coach went out and got guys who can play ball,” added the wide receiver. “You see we have Marquez [Valdes-Scantling], we have Mecole [Hardman], we got Skyy [Moore], we went out and got KT (Kadarius Toney) and obviously, they got me, so, I think it’s a combination of everything — having different guys who can do different things, but at the same time, still be able to go out there and make these explosive plays.”
Playing in 16 of the 17 games, Smith-Schuster finished second on the team in receiving with 933 yards and three touchdowns. The receiver would have had a good chance to hit the 1,000-yard marker had it not been for the concussion he suffered in Week 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Reid liked what Smith-Schuster provided his offense — and particularly what it meant for tight end Travis Kelce, who logged his seventh straight season of more than 1,000 yards.
“He’s a great balancer for [Travis Kelce], so you like to have somebody with the common components that plays opposite Travis, and JuJu has that,” said Reid. “He knows how to play in space. He’s a big target. He’s tough to tackle once he has the ball in his hands. He has great hands. And he’s smart. He understands the game.”
Smith-Schuster is currently dealing with a knee injury, but there is optimism he will play against the Philadephia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. The question is whether or not that will be his last game as a Chief.
On Wednesday, he made it very clear: he does not want it to be.
“I would love to stay here,” said Smith-Schuster. “This is awesome. This is a really cool spot — I love my teammates. I love the coaches, the staff, the organization. Everybody treats me so well and just gives me the opportunity to play ball. And I think that’s one of the really, really coolest things is that it’s like family here. It’s more so that I love being on this team than anything.”
It sounds like the Chiefs’ personnel staff feels the same way.
“He’s certainly been a guy who has been an awesome addition to our team,” added Chiefs general manager Brett Veach. “I feel like he’s the type of guy we had in our building for a month or two, and it felt like he was here for four years because he just blended in so well and got along so well with our entire staff.
“Players love him, but people in the building from the first floor to the third floor love him, so he’s kind of part of our everyday process, and he’s what you’d call a perfect fit for our building and our community and our team.”
If anything, what may provide the GM pause is the explosion of wide receiver contracts that occurred last offseason, with the big-money contracts of players like Hill, Christian Kirk and Davante Adams.
Smith-Schuster was an affordable 2022 solution for the Chiefs because an injury-ridden 2021 season in Pittsburgh prevented teams from driving up his value. That won’t be the case this time around.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” said Veach. “Last year was the start of something that was a little bit intimidating for teams that have rosters like we do. I think things change quickly, and there’s also those pool of guys that you’re evaluating, and you set your free agency board up, and then, all of a sudden, once the season ends, teams will start cutting guys or trading guys — and the dynamic of the board could change quickly.”
From the sound of it, there may need to be some give-and-take involved on both sides if a new, long-term contract were to work. There seems to be a willingness to come to the table on both sides. It helps that Smith-Schuster is still only 26 despite his already-six years in the NFL.
In the meantime, the Chiefs have an important game coming up.
“Hopefully, we can continue that relationship — and take care of business first,” said Veach.