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What Mink Thinks: What the JuJu Smith-Schuster Reports Tell Us

Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

Welcome to my new column. I first have to thank John Harbaugh. His "I could care less what Ryan Mink thinks" comment (with a grin) last week was the inspiration. So here goes nothing. Harbs won't care, but I'm hoping you will!

On Thursday night, I stayed up past 1 a.m. writing about the Ravens' possible reasons for not going after a top-flight wide receiver in free agency. Before noon on Friday, that column was trashed.

If the reports are true, the Ravens made a major play for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, only for him to stiff-arm their best offer to return to Pittsburgh for less money. The Ravens reportedly offered Smith-Schuster a one-year deal for $9 million with $3.5 million more in incentives, while the Steelers offered a flat one-year, $8 million deal.

So here's what all this should tell us:

1) The Ravens are willing to spend big money to upgrade at wide receiver – at least this year.

The big question mark this offseason, and in past offseasons, was just how much the Ravens were willing to invest in free agency on a wide receiver. For a long time, they've been bargain shoppers at the position, finding some hits and misses mostly with veterans nearing the end of their careers.

In an offense that's so run-heavy, there was reason to believe that Baltimore just didn't value the position enough to heavily invest outside of the draft. That was seemingly Eric DeCosta's strategy – build the wide receiver corps through the draft and let them grow with Lamar Jackson. After all, he used his first pick as general manager on wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown.

That still may be DeCosta's overriding philosophy. It's one thing to offer a wide receiver a large multi-year contract versus a one-year deal. A one-year deal signals a desire for immediate short-term help, not so much a philosophical change. A depressed wide receiver market offering short-term bargains may have been what pushed the Ravens to jump.

Still, the point remains that the Ravens were, and possibly still are, willing to spend money to upgrade Jackson's wide receiver unit this season. For those fans who said the Ravens weren't willing to help him enough, that take is as old as my column from Thursday night.

2) This seems more about returning to Pittsburgh than not coming to Baltimore.

Baltimore pundits have been questioning whether the Ravens would have trouble recruiting free-agent wide receivers because of their run-heavy system, and this news seems to fit into that narrative.

On the surface, it makes sense. The Ravens threw the ball the fewest times in the NFL last year – by a wide margin. On a one-year deal, Smith-Schuster (or any wide receiver) probably doesn't want to see their stats drop for fear that it will impact their value next offseason, which figures to offer a better chance at a bigger payday in a post-COVID salary cap.

The problem with that narrative in this case is that Smith-Schuster also reportedly turned down more money from the Kansas City Chiefs, who have gun-slinging Patrick Mahomes under center and threw the ball the third-most times in the league last season.

It seems this was more about Smith-Schuster wanting to stay in Pittsburgh than not wanting to play in Baltimore. A Twitter exchange between Smith-Schuster and Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey seemed to confirm that.

3) Most free-agent options are gone, but there's still time.

While it's clear the Ravens are willing to spend money to add a big-time wide receiver, it still has to be the right player at the right price. They aren't going to pivot and throw that same offer at any wide receiver sitting on the market. At this point, there aren't many wide receivers remaining who would present an obvious and immediate upgrade to what the Ravens already have on the roster.

Kenny Golladay is regarded as the top free-agent option remaining. On Friday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the Ravens had reached out to Golladay's agent. Later in the day, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora said the Ravens "are not making a play" for the 2019 Pro Bowler. It now appears that, after an extended visit, Golladay is expected to land with the New York Giants for much more money than the Ravens reportedly offered Smith-Schuster.

The big names remaining are T.Y. Hilton, Sammy Watkins and Antonio Brown, but Baltimore obviously preferred Smith-Schuster. The Ravens could also like another wideout who doesn't come with as robust of a resume, or they may like one of those other options more if the price becomes right.

One thing to remember is the wise words of Ozzie Newsome, who always reiterated that there are many different ways to acquire a player. If the choices aren't great now, the Ravens could make a trade. There's always the possibility that a wide receiver will fall into the Ravens' lap via a cut at some point later this offseason. Just because Baltimore hasn't added a veteran yet doesn't mean they won't.

The Ravens will also have opportunities to improve at wide receiver through the draft. Both Head Coach John Harbaugh and DeCosta commented on the talent in this year's class, and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. thinks it's the strongest position in the draft. Given the Ravens' track record at drafting wide receivers, it may not be what fans want to hear, but that thinking won't deter DeCosta. Just look at the immediate impact some rookie wideouts have made in recent years. DeCosta is going to take more shots at the position, and this year is another chance to hit big.

4) This adds more juice to the Ravens-Steelers rivalry.

Imagine the emotions in Pittsburgh if Smith-Schuster had defected to Baltimore. The Ravens would have stolen one of their most popular and best players. Reportedly rejecting the Ravens, especially in such a public way, still adds even more juice to the NFL's best rivalry.

Nobody should fault Smith-Schuster for his decision. He loves Pittsburgh and he wanted to stay. He's well within his right to do so. Judging by Humphrey's social media reaction, and the lack of any other commentary about it, the move didn't seem to ruffle the Ravens' feathers. But, of course, the Ravens believe Smith-Schuster missed out on a chance to join the good thing they have going in Baltimore. And months from now when the two teams prepare to square off, this will be revisited.

Each time Smith-Schuster faces the Ravens in 2021, his performance will be under a microscope. So will the Ravens' ability to stop him. The Ravens' eventual solution at wide receiver will also be judged, at least by fans, against what Smith-Schuster does this season. All of it is interesting, to say the least.

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