JuJu Smith-Schuster's decision to return to Pittsburgh was a stunner to most everyone in the football world.
Perhaps even more surprising: Smith-Schuster was nearly a Kansas City Chief.
The Steelers receiver admitted as much during an appearance on the Michael Irvin Podcast, telling the Hall of Famer "it would've been K.C." if not Pittsburgh.
That meant Smith-Schuster was considering spurning his division rival, Baltimore, which was also in pursuit of his services. He couldn't stomach becoming a Raven, especially because he wasn't entirely confident in his proposed role within Baltimore's run-first offense.
"[Playing for a rival], too, and I'm curious to see how they're going to be this year having Sammy Watkins and how they're going to use him and throwing the ball and stuff like that," Smith-Schuster said of the Ravens. "Lamar [Jackson]'s a really, a heavy run offense with the backs that he has. I just, just point being facts. His No. 1 target was [Mark] Andrews, who's a tight end. I think, just seeing K.C. and bro, Andy Reid was just calling me and he was sending me Lombardi Trophy pictures like constantly. We had a good talk, so it would've been K.C. after the Steelers.
"Like texted it to me while I was trying to make a decision and I have so much respect for him and his team."
It's hard to argue with the gleam of a Lombardi when considering destinations. After all, where better to go than the place that proved it can get the job done with the organization as is currently constructed?
Well, maybe Super Bowl LV was still fresh on the mind.
Or perhaps Smith-Schuster felt he'd be leaving Pittsburgh prematurely, especially after Ben Roethlisberger managed to strike a new deal that would ensure he'd be with the Steelers for 2021. The whole thing started to have a "Last Dance" feel to it, and it seems like Smith-Schuster didn't want to miss out, especially after the Steelers sputtered across the finish line in 2020 and were a one-and-done exit in the playoffs.
"Being somewhere in an atmosphere and environment, knowing where the team knows you, they know your history, they know how you are, how to use you and stuff like that," Smith-Schuster said when asked what drove him to return to the Steelers. "Coming back and knowing that I would have Ben back for one more year and playing my last year, it was just like, 'Yo, I'm gonna take my chance, I'm gonna play with Ben.'
"Baltimore, K.C., they're all great teams, no doubt. These teams are playoff contenders every year for the next five to 10 years, and I respect that about them. Tee Martin was a coach at USC who coached me, he ended up going to the Ravens and he reached out and that's how that process started. Lamar reached out, the head coach called, Marlon Humphrey's hitting me up. It starts getting serious when the players start texting you and hit you up like, 'Yo, what's up, bro? What we doing? Come win.' All respect to them, and it was cool. But I think with me it's more so staying home, staying loyal. In my situation, we have a new OC, Ben's coming back, my relationship with my receiver coach, Ike Hilliard, is amazing. You can't beat that.
"Being home with the Steelers is the best. It's ideal just for me, you know. I think what really people didn't get to see a lot is later in my career, because I dealt with injuries, I played mainly slot. And coming back and playing outside more this year and showing people that can be a No. 1 and having Ben back healthy and me being healthy and just having the team that we have."
Smith-Schuster sure sounds optimistic about Pittsburgh's chances in 2021, enough to take less money to return to the Steelers on a one-year deal worth $8 million. We'll learn this season if it pays off.