With T.J. Watt coming off of another season where he cemented himself as one of the top edge defenders in the NFL, the next step after this season and in the months leading up to it, the outside linebacker is available for a contract extension.
The big question at hand: how much are the Pittsburgh Steelers willing to invest into their top defensive player?
There are a couple options for the Steelers: sign a long-term contract, wait until the season is over and franchise tag him, let Watt hit free agency, or trade the star linebacker to another team.
The first case of signing Watt sounds like the best option to most people. The main thing about this option just comes down to the number of guaranteed money that Watt will receive. Like most other contracts, each top player to receive a new contract wants more guaranteed money than anyone else who previously signed their deal. We see this often with quarterbacks who sign large deals or frankly any top-of-the-line player who get their deals after another player signs. For the pass-rush position, the top two players in terms of guarantees right now are Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett. Bosa has $102 million in guarantees on his deal he signed in his July 2020 contract extension worth up to $135 million total. Right behind him is Garrett with $100 million in guarantees in his July 2020 contract extension that is worth up to $125 million. Garrett signed his deal on the 14th of July while Bosa signed his July 28th.
I’m certain that Watt will want to get more guaranteed than both Bosa and Garrett, and some are predicting he will come in around $105 million guaranteed with a total contract worth around the $150 million mark.
As for the second option, waiting until the season is over to franchise tag Watt instead of a long-term contract is much less of a possibility. The reason for this is the Steelers do not negotiate contracts after the summer until the season is over. So if a deal cannot come during this summer, the team will have to place the franchise tag on their star defensive player. According to OvertheCap.com, the projected franchise tag for Watt’s position would be $20,274,000. This would be a huge break for the Steelers, allowing them to put that giant contract off for another year. However, it has been reported that neither Watt nor the front office want this option.
Another option that the Steelers could pursue is for Watt to hit free agency. I mentioned this option on the SteelerNation Podcast with G Stryker and I wish I had thought about it more before I posed the question. If Watt were to hit free agency, there would be little chance that the Steelers would be able to bring him back. According to Spotrac.com, the Indianapolis Colts and the Steelers are the two teams with the most cap room in 2022. There are currently 9 teams that will have over $50 million in cap room next offseason as well and any of these teams could put in an extremely high bid on Watt that the Steelers might not want to match. If the Steelers want to get into a bidding war with another team, the price tag will get up much higher than the option of just a contract extension for Watt. This might be the most expensive option for the star player and might be one of the worst decisions for the franchise to make, especially if the team plans on keeping Watt, which all signs point to that they do.
As for a trade with another team? That is definitely not going to happen but if it were going to, we might see a Khalil Mack level trade which would give the Steelers two first round picks, a third round pick, and a sixth round pick. This kind of deal is more dependent on what the Steelers will receive in terms of draft compensation and then what players they pick with this package deal. In my opinion, this is a better deal than letting Watt hit free agency, especially if the team wants to get away from paying that huge contract. Once again, I don’t think this will happen but it is still fun to investigate.
Overall, Watt will most likely be staying in Pittsburgh for the long haul, probably until his career is over. Let’s hope that for the Steelers sake, he does not get injured or hold out for a larger pay day.
What do you think the Steelers should do with Watt? Let him go or do everything they can to keep him? What do you think he should be paid? Comment below!