By the sounds of it, it’s a matter of when, not if, linebacker Alex Highsmith will get a contract extension. Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan has been relatively transparent about moves since he took over the post from Kevin Colbert a year ago. In his first as GM, Khan said in August 2022 about Diontae Johnson: “We want Diontae, and we are excited to have Diontae a part of this team. We hope he is going to be a Steeler for a long time.” The Steelers signed him to a contract extension two days later.
Similarly, Khan shared about Mitch Trubisky from the NFL Scouting Combine: “Mitch has been great. It’s been great to have him around, and I would look forward to having him around here for a long time. Not only this year but for a long time.” Trubisky inked an extension with Pittsburgh on May 19, moments after Khan disclosed on the Pat McAfee Show that a deal was being finalized.
So when Khan said about Highsmith, “He’s a Steeler,” and “I really hope Alex is here for a long time,” you’d better believe it. While it’s essentially the same recycled line, insert player name, it hasn’t just been smoke.
Highsmith, Pittsburgh’s third-round selection in the 2020 NFL draft, is in the final year of his rookie contract. The Steelers typically lock in a player the year before it expires, and negotiations usually don’t overlap the regular season.
What could that deal look like? According to a Steelers insider of Jeff Hartman, editor of Behind the Steel Curtain, it will be a three-to-four-year deal worth roughly $17 million per year. “There’s no sticking points with money at all,” Hartman said on the May 22 Let’s Ride podcast. “Omar Khan and Alex Highsmith are very close, that’s what the source is saying. They’re great friends. This is literally just a structure issue, not terms. They’re not haggling over millions. They’re probably looking at signing bonus, length of the deal, how much guaranteed money. It’s just a matter of time.”
And that time could come sooner than later. Hartman said the deal could be done by July’s training camp, perhaps even minicamp (June 13).
The rumored $17 million average annual salary is well above the $13.9 million market value from Spotrac. The highly-touted player contract tool calculates their projections based on players of similar age, contract status and production.
Alex Highsmith’s Approach to Contract Negotiations
Each player takes a different approach to offseason practices amid contract negotiations. Some do what’s often dubbed a “hold in,” where he attends practices but only partially participates — mostly in individual drills. T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Diontae Johnson were all hold ins. Alex Highsmith is taking the full participant route. Surprising given the risk, not surprising given the person. He wasn’t highly recruited, he was a walk-on at UNC-Charlotte, he wasn’t talked about in pre-draft buzz. Guys like that, guys like Highsmith, are built differently.
“That’s just who I am,” Highsmith told Steelers media personality, Missi Matthews. “I love working, and that’s always who I’ve been, especially coming from college and being a walk-on. I know if I had to work hard for everything in my life, so just being here, being with the guys means a lot to me. Just getting better every year. I know I could play so much better than I did last year. I know I’m going to continue to improve, and so I like being here with this team and playing on this defense. It’s awesome. I want to be here for a while.”
While Highsmith could play better than he did in 2022, it’ll be tough to beat. He produced a career Pro Bowl-caliber season with 63 tackles (12 for loss), 20 QB hits, 14.5 sacks (5th in NFL) and five forced fumbles (2nd in NFL). While less disruptive with Watt sidelined, he managed to contribute 3.5 sacks, 13 tackles, five tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, a defended pass and one forced fumble in those seven weeks.