On Wednesday Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was unequivocal when talking about the team’s ongoing contract negotiations with its All-Pro outside linebacker. “T.J. Watt should get whatever the heck he wants,” said Roethlisberger, via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor, before stating the obvious and adding that “Watt is one of the best players in the NFL, not just defensively.”
Today, fellow team captain Cameron Heyward also weighed in on the T.J. Watt negotiations, wrapping up his media session with a simple yet strong message: “Pay T.J., please.”
According to Heyward, that’s the sentiment throughout the locker room.
“We all feel like T.J. should be paid,” said the eight-year veteran. He has put in the time and the work. He is a productive player. He’s been out here (and) doesn’t miss much games. He’s a game-changer.”
Cam Heyward’s 5-Year Extension was Signed on Sept. 6, 2020
If there’s anyone who understands what Watt is going through it’s Heyward, as he went through a protracted negotiation last year on the way to inking a five-year contract extension that figures to keep him in Pittsburgh for the remainder of his All-Pro career.
“You want to be part of this team and you put in so much hard work—you just want it to be reciprocated,” he explained to the media on Thursday.
Of course, as large and significant as Heyward’s contract was, it’s $75.1 million total value pales in comparison to what the numbers will look like on a Watt extension. That helps explain why the Watt negotiations have been—in the words of NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport—“extremely difficult.”
As the runner-up in last year’s Defensive Player of the Year voting, Watt figures to want to become the highest paid defensive player in NFL history, a distinction currently held by Los Angeles Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa, who averages $27 million per year and has 57.8% of his money guaranteed. The Steelers likely don’t have a problem with making Watt the league’s highest paid defender, but they might have a big problem guaranteeing more than half of the contract’s value. That’s because the Steelers have a policy of not guaranteeing dollars beyond the first year of a deal, just like they have a longstanding policy of not negotiating contract extensions after the start of the regular season.
Cam Heyward: The T.J. Watt Situation is ‘Not a Distraction’
Despite the increased attention on the T.J. Watt situation in the past 72 hours or so, Heyward insists that it’s not impacting the team’s focus as it prepares for the season opener.
“It’s not a distraction. This is what every person has to go through with their job. It just gets more publicized here,” he explained.
But it’s debatable whether the situation can now be characterized as something other than a distraction. It was a minimally-publicized issue, ever since Watt stated that he was “not going to be talking” about his contract status, all the way back in mid-June. But in the past two days, Roethlisberger, Heyward and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin have all had to answer questions about the “Watt Watch,” which is normally indicative of an issue rising to the level of a distraction.
Heyward ‘Surprised’ by One Development
Meanwhile, Heyward did admit to being taken aback that Watt was not voted as a defensive captain this year, in the wake of the team naming its captains on Monday.
“I was surprised but we have plenty of leaders on this team,” he said, trying to minimize the significance of Watt losing his captaincy status after serving as defensive co-captain with Heyward in 2020.
“Just because I get the title of captain doesn’t mean I’m the only one who speaks,” he added. “T.J. has been a leader—Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu. All these guys have had a say so in our defense. It’s just a title. It doesn’t change anything how we do business.
“The main thing is we want to focus in on the Buffalo Bills,” he concluded. “But for a guy like T.J., I know that he wants to get it behind him and we need to get it done.”
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