JuJu had an interesting 2020 season.
His production bounced back with Big Ben returning as the quarterback. 96 catches with 9 touchdowns. But the "brand" side of JuJu on TikTok and YouTube became an apparent problem with other teams and players around the league as the Steelers got off to their hot start of 11-0 before crashing and burning losing 5 of their last 6 down the stretch including the upset of all upsets in the Wild Card round against the Browns.
Time and time again players mocked his popular "Corvette" tiktok dance and threw jabs his way both on and off the field. It was definitely brought upon himself by dancing on logos and "mocking" the Browns before the playoff game, but it became almost an odd obsession around the league. Here's a kid who is 24 years old, who has a blast on and off the field, who was a star from the moment he stepped on an NFL field and his peers seem to not be able to stand him.
He's not controversial. He's just a big ol' kid. And that rubs folks the wrong way a lot. I wrote in December how I thought it would be for the best if JuJu stopped doing those dances on the field pregame, not because I don't like JuJu, I just felt it was hurting his team and causing unnecessary distractions as a whole.
Now that the season is over JuJu is heading into free agency, and that storyline has been following him since the start of the season, too. Will the Steelers pay big money to keep him around? Or will they let him walk like we've seen before with Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace?
You can argue both ways no doubt. I hope JuJu can stay a Steeler. He's tough nosed on the field. He's productive. He became way more reliable in terms of catching the ball and not fumbling in 2020. I'm a fan. He's a great kid. And I'm glad he denied these "rumors" already swirling online two months before free agency even begins.
The misconception about this theory of JuJu wanting to "head to New York to be in a big market to build his brand" is pretty silly the more I think about it. He already is a brand. And the Pittsburgh Steelers, like them or not, are a top 5 brand in the NFL and a top 10 brand in American sports. Sure, New York is New York, but you could easily make the argument that staying in Pittsburgh and being a star for the Steelers could help your brand far more than going to New York to play for the shitty Jets. How'd it work out for Le'Veon Bell and his rap career?
JuJu doesn't need to do that. He's already there. Now the question becomes can the two sides aline on money, and will the Steelers ask themselves if 15+ million dollars for JuJu is worth it when they have extensions of TJ Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and a rebuild of the offensive line to deal with that are probably more pressing.
Hate him, like him, love him, you can't deny that JuJu is a star. He's the new age athlete that really has set the way for the players coming into the league the last couple years and that will enter the league from here on out. It's just how it's going to be no matter how much we all want our favorite football players to "put their head in the playbook" or "work harder, not play harder". There's 17 year old AAU basketball players that already have 1 million followers on Instagram. This is how it's going to be from here on out. Players balancing their sport / job, and their brand for extra dough and after their brief careers on the gridiron.
JuJu was just one of the first through the wall in a big way.