Steelers Coordinator Acknowledges Reason TJ Watt Isn’t Practicing

Troy Polamalu

Getty Images T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers during training camp at Heinz Field on July 29, 2021.

It’s been getting more and more difficult for the Pittsburgh Steelers to explain why All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt isn’t participating in drills or practicing with his teammates. At first head coach Mike Tomlin & Co. could brush questions away by alluding to load management, pointing to Pittsburgh’s extra-long training camp and the four-game preseason. Or by making vague references to a possible injury ailment, or suggesting that the coaches want to get a look at young players, like sixth-round draft pick Quincy Roche.

But Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler is perhaps not as effective as Tomlin at deftly deflecting away Watt-related questions. On Saturday he all but admitted that it’s not the Steelers who are keeping Watt off the practice field—it’s Watt who is holding himself back.

According to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, when Butler was asked after practice about why Watt hasn’t been in on any team drills, he said: “Hey, that’s none of my business. I hope that he signs the contract and when he gets that done, we will talk about that.”

But when prodded further, Butler indicated that Watt is sitting things out because of his contract situation.

“I don’t blame him for that because you don’t want to get hurt when you are trying to get your contract done; then you lose some sort of flexibility in terms of what you can sign,” he said.

The problem is that the Steelers typically don’t wrap up contract negotiations with stars like Watt until days or even hours before the start of the regular-season, much like was the case with Troy Polamalu in 2011, who signed an extension the day before the season-opener. In another case, the team came to an agreement on a two-year extension with cornerback Joe Haden exactly seven days before the start of the 2019 season.

Watt Can Expect to Sign a Deal Worth $100 Million-Plus

But those negotiations weren’t nearly as financially consequential as Watt’s next contract is expected to be. He will almost certainly want to become the highest paid defender in the league, a distinction currently held by Los Angeles Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa, who averages $27 million per year, with 57.8% of his money guaranteed.

That perhaps explains the hesitancy of Steelers president Art Rooney II to predict that an agreement will get done.

“I don’t like to get into those details in terms of discussions, but we’re going to try to get it done before the start of the season,” Rooney said on Tuesday. “I try not to get optimistic or pessimistic; I’ve seen these things go so many different ways over the years. We’re just going to do our best. I think both sides want to get something done, so I think that’s a good thing.”

However, if a deal doesn’t get done before the Steelers’ self-imposed deadline of Sept. 12 (the start of the team’s regular-season schedule), one expects the club would franchise him in 2022 and try to come to an agreement again next offseason.

In the meantime, Watt isn’t talking about his contract situation. He is currently scheduled to earn $10,089,000 in 2021.

Tomlin on James Washington: ‘He Has Not’ Requested a Trade

Meanwhile, after practice on Saturday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin disputed Adam Schefter’s report from a day earlier that fourth-year wide receiver James Washington has requested a trade. Per Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tomlin said: “He has not. Those unnamed sources, we don’t react to or respond to….”

Never mind that Tomlin is reacting/responding to the report, and that it’s certainly conceivable that Washington is unhappy with his lack of playing time, now that he is No. 4 on the team’s depth chart. Moreover, he has little chance of moving up in the pecking order, unless Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster or Diontae Johnson get injured (or are plagued by drops).

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