The Philadelphia Eagles should re-pursue JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2022

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Eagles were in a precarious position heading into 2021’s free agency period.

Due to a series of compounding decisions by general manager Howie Roseman, from contract re-negotiations to the decision to trade away a quarterback on a nine-figure contract, the Eagles had to make their free agency moves on the margins, avoiding long-term deals and largely signing veteran stopgaps on bargain bin deals.

Were any of those deals home runs? At this point, the answer looks like a certified no, as two of the team’s top four free agency acquisitions aren’t even with the team anymore, and the other three, Anthony Harris and Ryan Kerrigan, probably won’t be back for follow-up campaigns in 2022, but hey, when you play on the margins you can’t expect too much.

However, one area of the team the Eagles opted against addressing outright was wide receiver, with only DeVonta Smith joining the team via the draft, not free agency. Did the team sniff around on the open market? Reportedly so, with Kendrick Bourne explicitly commenting on the team’s interest when his New England Patriots came to town for an open practice, but that’s not the player I’d like to focus on.

No, in a fun story that has largely been forgotten at this point, the Philadelphia Eagles reportedly had agent-led talks about signing JuJu Smith-Schuster to help bolster Jalen Hurts‘ receiving corps. While that pursuit ultimately came up fruitless, Howie Roseman would be wise to pick up the pursuit – or the pursuit of someone similar – in 2022, as the team could seriously use some veteran reinforcements at wide receiver.

Just imagine the current Philadelphia Eagles offense with one more veteran wide receiver.

Juju Smith-Schuster’s 2021 season is probably one to forget.

After opting to return to Pittsburgh for a fifth season despite the emergence of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool as the Steelers’ top two receiving targets, Smith-Schuster was the team’s clear third option through the first five weeks of the season. His yards per reception were closer to – read: identical – to his down 2020 season instead of his breakout 2018 campaign, and many a fan wondered why Pittsburgh opted to pay the USC product $8 million for a year of action.

But then JuJu suffered a shoulder injury in Week 5 versus the Broncos, and just like that, his campaign was over following a trip to season-ending IR.

Since Smith-Schuster went down, Pittsburgh’s offense has been roughly comparable to their output in 2020, with the team ranking 14th in passing yards versus 15th the season prior.

So, needless to say, Smith-Schuster probably isn’t going to be headed back to Pittsburgh in 2022 unless he takes an even steeper pay cut from his $8 million paycheck, but that doesn’t mean his market would be non-existent league-wide. For a team like the Eagles, who have lacked a reliable slot option across the middle of the field all season long, Smith-Schuster- or again, a similar player – could be incredibly complementary to DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins on the outside.

For all of the jokes Jalen Hurts receivers for his disinterest in throwing to the middle of the field, it’s hard to truly place all of that on the second-year quarterback’s shoulders. Since Week 1, Nick Sirianni has been incredibly fond of running out concepts with his wide receivers and will often flood one side of the field – usually the right side – to give a few more bodies down the field should Hurts opt to take off running. In Week 15, when Dallas Goedert was playing the best game of his professional career, Hurts hit his top target in between the hashes a few times, including on a mildly controversial 3rd-and-6 call on the second drive of the game.

With a reliable possession receiver like Smith-Schuster running across the middle of the field, a receiver who has completed 68.6 percent of his passes over 63 regular-season games, it’s easy to imagine Hurts and Sirianni feeling incredibly comfortable attacking every inch of the field instead of utilizing the team’s slot receiver as a deep route decoy who has incredibly been relegated to gadget duties.

If Hurts is going to take a step forward as a passer and really stake his claim as the Eagles’ franchise quarterback, it would be wise to give him a third high-volume pass-catcher to go with Smith and Goedert, especially since all three could conceivably serve as a reliable base offense for a different quarterback in 2023 if things ultimately don’t work out with QB1 as QB1.

Either way, increasing the base level of offensive talent has to be a priority for the Eagles in March of 2022, even if they ultimately opt against targeting the biggest fish in the pond, Chris Godwin, following his torn ACL and sprained MCL in Week 15.

Say what you will about Smith-Schuster’s social media presence, but on the field, he can be a reliable target if deployed in the same slot role that broke him out in the first place back in 2017.

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What would the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense look like now if Kendrick Bourne, Josh Reynolds, or yes, JuJu Smith-Schuster was a member of their receiving corps? Would the team be more willing to rotate in and out wide receivers throughout the game, or would Greg Ward remain the rare player with three touchdowns and four receptions on his limited 2021 resume? Either way, if Howie Roseman is wise, he won’t make that same mistake twice. Whether it’s the NFL’s reigning TikTok star or a different receiver like, say, Allen Robinson, procuring another professional wide receiver has to be priority number one heading into 2022, especially since the team will have some money to play with in free agency.