Kansas City Chiefs Free Agent JuJu Smith-Schuster Steps Up In Super Bowl LVII

JuJu Smith-Schuster bet on himself.

“It’s crazy,” he said, “to come here and play on a one-year deal to chase a Super Bowl ring.”

With Smith-Schuster a free agent at year’s end, some speculated that the Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver had perhaps hurt his cause to get a more long-term deal in the future.

Heading into Super Bowl LVII, Smith-Schuster had not recorded more than 35 receiving yards in five straight games.

But in the Chiefs’ 38-35 Super Bowl victory, he stepped up when his team needed him most.

The Chiefs trailed by 10 points at halftime, were dominated in time of possession and had not converted a third down.

Making matters worse: With 1:44 left in the half, quarterback Patrick Mahomes reinjured his right ankle, which had required treatment leading up to the game.

That play started out doomed from the start with a poor snap by Creed Humphrey, and as Mahomes attempted to fake the defender with a pitch, he was tackled awkwardly by linebacker T.J. Edwards, reaggravating the ankle he initially hurt in the divisional playoffs.

But during the crucial moments at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth of the Super Bowl, Smith-Schuster had four catches in seven plays of 8, 14, 13 and 3 yards, respectively. Three were first-down catches.

His last reception put the Chiefs at the Philadelphia Eagles’ three-yard line on a scoring drive that would give Kansas City its first lead of the game.

In total, Smith-Schuster had a team-high seven catches, and only Travis Kelce had more than his 53 receiving yards.

But it was Smith-Schuster’s last target that perhaps was most memorable due to the controversy of it.

On a 3rd-and-8 play from the Philadelphia 15 with 1:54 left, officials called cornerback James Bradberry for a holding penalty on the incomplete pass.

While the call was criticized, Smith-Schuster was adamant that he was held.

“Oh, yes, 100%,” Smith-Schuster said, “the call’s going to be called.”

That penalty allowed the Chiefs to run the clock out before Harrison Butker kicked a 27-yard field goal with eight seconds left.

It was an apropos ending for an NFL season replete with officiating issues, especially during the Chiefs’ AFC Championship Game victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, in which Butker also kicked the game-winning field goal.

Smith-Schuster left early in that game with an injury, but four-to-five hours of treatment a day allowed him to make such a major contribution in Super Bowl LVII.

“After the game, the AFC Championship,” he said, “I couldn’t walk.”

It’s his injury history that has people concerned. He missed four games in 2019 with head and knee injuries and all but five games in 2021 with a shoulder injury.

He missed a Week 11 game in 2022 after suffering a concussion suffered against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Smith-Schuster, however, led all Chiefs wide receivers during the regular season with 78 catches for 933 yards.

With wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Justin Watson also as free agents, the Chiefs have some decisions to make.

Smith-Schuster let it be known in early November that he wants to continue playing with the Chiefs.

“I would love to stay here, to be honest,” he said. “This offense is unbelievable. Coaching staff is unbelievable. If it was up to me, of course, why not? (I) get to play with one of the best quarterbacks in the game.”

But with the way wide receiver salaries are skyrocketing, including record-setting deals by Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams last year, one would think that Smith-Schuster could get at least $15 million on the open market.

The Denver Broncos’ Courtland Sutton ranks 26th in AAV (average annual value) with $15.2 million, and Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Allen Robinson ranks 25th in AAV with $15.5 million.

Smith-Schuster should make more than teammate Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who is tied for 35th with a $10 million AAV after signing a three-year, $30 million deal last offseason.

Valdes-Scantling, who had no catches in the Super Bowl, had fewer receptions, yards and touchdowns (42, 687 and two) than Smith-Schuster this year, and new contracts typically become more lucrative each offseason.

Smith-Schuster deserves credit for helping the Chiefs come back in yet another Super Bowl.

Against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, the Chiefs trailed 20-10 in the fourth quarter and still won 31-20.

“The guys always believe,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said.

With two Super Bowl wins in the last four years, the Chiefs could have a dynasty brewing.

Mahomes is just 27, and the Chiefs won despite relying on rookies, including four defensive backs playing major roles in the secondary. In fact, according to Zebra Technologies, 24.3% of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps were played by rookies, which ranked third highest in the NFL this season.

The Chiefs’ future is bright, and Smith-Schuster made his case to be part of it.

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