While the Pittsburgh Steelers are no strangers to contract disputes or holdouts, there is something different about ensuring getting the deal done with T.J. Watt. The Steelers have long maintained a policy of not negotiating contracts during the season and the clock is ticking as kickoff vs. the Buffalo Bills is only a month away.
Art Rooney II addressed the media in an almost ominous fashion, declining to state whether or not the organization and Watt’s representatives have begun contract talks. Rooney would say that the Steelers will try to come to terms with Watt on an extension “by the start of the season.”
Watt is entering into the final year of his rookie deal and there is nothing ambiguous about what he wants. There is also something unique about Watt and it’s not just his on the field performance. He is not outright holding out. Everyday he shows up for practice, dons the uniform and goes through the warmups until the “real” practice begins. At which point, the trainers join Watt on the sideline as he conducts individual workouts. Keith Butler confirmed that Watt is holding himself out of practicing with the team until the Steelers show him the money. And many members of the media are using this as a chance to speculate on if the Steelers show him the money.
There is nothing ordinary about Watt, and neither will there be about his extension. Watt about to set a new market for defensive players with his contract and it will be a deal unlike the Steelers have ever paid. Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett currently have the largest contracts, averaging $27M and $25M annually. While both are among the league’s best defensive talents, Watt (due $10M this year) has outperformed both.
- Through his first four seasons, Watt has 49.5 sacks, 17 forced fumbles and 4 interceptions as well as finishing 3rd (2019) and 2nd (2020) in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
- Bosa signed a 5-year, $135M contract extension ($102M guaranteed) with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020. His first 5 seasons (drafted 2016) totals: 47.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and 0 interceptions.
- Garrett signed a 5-year, $125M contract extension ($100M guaranteed) with the Cleveland Browns in 2020. His 4-year totals: 42.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and 0 interceptions.
It’s reasonable to believe the holdup is in the guaranteed money aspect. Dan Rooney held firm in his reluctancy to give guaranteed money and the Steelers have maintained that philosophy. This worked out very well when it came to the Le’Veon Bell negotiation. However, there are reasons to consider Watt differently:
- The Rooney family was not as wealthy as many other NFL owners they would compete against. They operated at a loss through the mid-2000s. But between TV deals and Heinz Field, they are not facing the same degree of disadvantage.
- Watt has proven to be special and not just his on the field performance. He represents the city of Pittsburgh with high character and is the future face of the franchise. Watt exemplifies what it means to be a Steeler and to maintain the tradition.
- Guaranteed money in the NFL is the most misleading term there is in sports. It would be more accurate to say money that is guaranteed, because it comes in the form of bonuses that are implemented throughout the contract each year. It’s not all upfront, here it is. Most players don’t see all of their “guaranteed” money. This is likely where the negotiations are most complex.
At the end of the day, the Steelers can and must pay the man. It would be a “record-breaking contract”, but not only have they done it before, it also didn’t take long for them to be surpassed anyway. Add to the fact they are doing all they can to make one last run with Ben Roethlisberger and to do that, they will need T.J. Watt.