The Chiefs signed Juju Smith-Schuster to a team-friendly one year deal, but now that he’s producing for KC should they invest in signing him long-term?
The Kansas City Chiefs squeaked out a win against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday night. It was a frustrating game in many ways, but especially for the offense. The Chiefs struggled to put together consistent drives through much of the game as the offensive line struggled, the run game was non-existent, and many of K.C.’s pass catchers struggled to get open.
Throughout the game, Patrick Mahomes only had two consistent targets, Travis Kelce and JuJu Smith-Schuster. While Kelce has obviously been one of Mahomes’ favorite pass catchers since he became KC’s quarterback, Smith-Schuster is just now starting to build that relationship with Mahomes. While it’s great to see that relationship starting to blossom, it means that the Chiefs are going to have to decide if they want this relationship to be more than just a one-year fling.
A reasonable one-year contract made sense for both parties this past offseason. The Chiefs were looking to add wide receivers (because they were about to trade Tyreek Hill) and Smith-Schuster was looking to rebuild his reputation after battling injuries for a couple of seasons. That decision is looking like it will prove to be a win/win for both parties. The Chiefs are getting No. 1 wide receiver production and Smith-Schuster is setting himself up for a nice payday after this season. The question is if that payday will come from the Kansas City Chiefs.
Just in case some of you scoffed when I said that the Chiefs were getting top wide receiver production from Smith-Schuster, let’s look at just where he currently ranks this season. Here are his current stats:
- 44 receptions
- 582 yards
- 2 touchdowns
While the touchdowns are on the low side, Smith-Schuster’s 44 receptions rank 14th overall in the NFL entering Monday night’s game and 11th best among wide receivers. His yards are about the same, as his 582 yards rank 13th overall in the NFL and 12th among wide receivers. So in terms of yards and catches, he is a top 12 wideout so far this season. Plus, the Chiefs have already had their bye week, so he may even climb a little higher in the rankings if he keeps producing at this level and more wideouts have their byes. Here are some of the other wideouts with similar numbers right now.
- Tyler Lockett – 51 receptions, 598 yards, 4 touchdowns
- Mike Evans – 44 receptions, 617 yards, 3 touchdowns
- Christian Kirk – 43 receptions, 574 yards, 5 touchdowns
- CeeDee Lamb – 42 receptions, 556 yards, 3 touchdowns
That’s the company Smith-Schuster has in terms of production. All of those guys have been top-shelf wideouts for their teams. You can argue that Smith-Schuster gets a production bump from playing in Andy Reid’s offense with Patrick Mahomes throwing him the ball, but no agent in their right mind is going to ignore those comps, and with the exception of CeeDee Lamb who is still on his rookie deal, the rest of those wideouts are all on deals that pay them an average of $16-18 million per season. That’s a far cry from the $3 million deal that he is on right now. Plus, it’s not like Smith-Schuster has already had a big payday in his career. After he finishes this season in K.C. he will have been paid a total of about $16 million over his six-year NFL career. That means his total career earnings don’t even add up to what Lockett, Evans, or Kirk are making in one season on their current deals.
A Realistic Range
If you project Smith-Schuster’s current numbers over a full 17-game season you get 94 receptions, 1,237 yards, and 4 touchdowns Again, those are No. 1 wide receiver numbers. If you looked at wideouts with similar numbers last season, the two closest comps are pretty interesting cases.
Chris Godwin: 98 receptions, 1,103 yards, 5 touchdowns
DJ Moore: 93 receptions, 1,157 yards, 4 touchdowns
Those are two very comparable seasons by players who just signed new contracts after last season at ages very close to what Smith-Schuster is now—who will turn 26 later this month. Godwin is also 26 this season and just signed what is essentially a 3-year/$60 million deal (there are a couple of void years in there that make things a little more complicated), but he basically signed a $20 million/year deal at age 26 following a year where he put up numbers almost identical to what Smith-Schuster is on pace for. DJ Moore is 25 this season and signed a 4-year, $73 million deal that is paying him about $20.6 million/year also following a similar statistical season.
If you don’t think Smith-Schuster’s agent isn’t going to bring those deals to the negotiating table for his client’s next contract, you’re crazy. If K.C. realistically wanted to sign Smith-Schuster to a long-term deal the floor is probably around $16 million per year and the ceiling would be around $20 million. Maybe the Chiefs can get it closer to the floor given his injury history and the selling point of playing in Reid’s offense with Mahomes. After all, the rumors were that Smith-Schuster already turned down more money from the Chiefs a year ago to go back for one more year with the Steelers because he liked playing there and had a relationship with Ben Roethlisberger. So maybe the Chiefs get a little bit of a discount, but if he continues to put up numbers like he has this season, they aren’t going to get him on another cheap deal.
What to do?
I have to admit that I’m torn on how I feel about the idea of giving Smith-Schuster a big deal. Does he have an elite skill set that the Chiefs just can’t let get away? Part of me thinks that the combo of Reid and Mahomes can still get similar production out of someone else at a cheaper cost, but if you want to compete for a Super Bowl do you really want to skimp on your star quarterback’s weapons? So part of me thinks that if Pat and JuJu continue to gel as the season goes on, then just pay the man and make sure Mahomes is happy. Then I stop and think, well if they were going to pay big money to a wideout then wouldn’t they have just kept Tyreek Hill? I go back and forth every time I think about the idea.
I feel like the Chiefs need to continue to add to the wide receiver group. Juju Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman have been the two most productive wideouts for K.C. so far this season and they are both going to be free agents in the offseason. Kadarius Toney could fill Hardman’s role, but do we really want them to have to go find another reliable go-to wideout this offseason if they let Smith-Schuster walk? The list of potential free agent wide receivers this offseason is not impressive at all, so short of making a trade or someone unexpectedly getting cut, I don’t know that there will be an option better than Smith-Schuster out there. The Chiefs could draft a wideout early again, but if they are trying to compete for a Super Bowl next year do they want to have to count on a rookie wideout to be a go-to target?
So what do you think Chiefs fans? Do you think the Chiefs should try to sign Smith-Schuster long-term? Would you be willing to pay him $16-20M per year over a three or four-year deal? Do you think the fact that he’s putting up No. 1 wide receiver numbers proves he’s an actual number one receiver or do you credit those numbers more with the offense he’s in and the quarterback he’s playing with? Would it be a big mistake to pay Juju that much money or would it be a bigger mistake to let another proven wide receiver leave Kansas City and make Patrick Mahomes start all over again with someone new right in the midst of their Super Bowl window? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.