But, it theoretically could be if the Steelers convinced a future Hall of Fame defensive lineman to come out of retirement.
So, in light of Heyward needing groin surgery, which The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac reported will keep him sidelined for up to eight weeks, several Steelers writers, including SI.com’s All Steelers’ Noah Strackbein, are projecting Pittsburgh to try and convince Watt to delay his Hall of Fame candidacy and return to the NFL.
“Watt has joked about coming out of retirement since he made his official announcement,” Strackbein wrote. “He’s also opened up about regretting not taking the opportunity to play with his brother T.J., who at the time of his last free agency, was signing a massive deal. Watt didn’t want to take away from that when he chose Arizona over Pittsburgh.
“Well, T.J. is signed and the Steelers need a defensive tackle. Any other team in the league makes that phone call and there’s a slim chance Watt comes out of retirement. For the Steelers, who are still very much a playoff contender even after a blowout Week 1 loss, it’s a completely different conversation.”
J.J. Watt to the Steelers ‘Not as Laughable’ Idea as Fans Might Expect
As Strackbein explained, the Steelers have an advantage over every other team in signing Watt. Multiple times this offseason, Watt expressed regret over not getting the chance to play with his brothers, T.J and Derek.
Just this past week, J.J. shared that idea again with Fox News’ Ryan Morin.
“There’s definitely a part of me that wishes I could’ve played with them … It would have been an absolute dream come true to play with all three of us on the same team,” said J.J.
Derek is a free agent, but T.J. is locked into a long-term deal with the Steelers. J.J. could fulfill one of his last remaining NFL wishes — play with his brother while competing for a Super Bowl title in Pittsburgh.
Watt has never even played in the AFC Championship Game.
The Steelers replacing Heyward, a 3-time first-team All-Pro, with a 3-time Defensive Player of the Year winner, sounds like a pipe dream on paper. But Pittsburgh’s Post-Gazette’s Joe Starkey implied the idea isn’t too far-fetched.
“Some will laugh at this storyline,” Starkey wrote. “I don’t think it’s laughable — at least not as laughable as the notion of the Steelers trying to stop the run without Heyward.”
How the Steelers Replace Injured Cameron Heyward
Tomlin admitted on September 12 in his press conference that the Steelers “won’t turn a blind eye” to filling the hole Heyward leaves on the team’s defensive line with his injury.
But Tomlin also added that the team “feels comfortable” with its defensive line depth.
The Steelers re-signed veteran Larry Ogunjobi this offseason, and although he entered Week 1 with the questionable tag, he played and sounds relatively healthy entering Week 2.
The same is the case with fellow defensive end DeMarvin Leal. He exited with an elbow injury in Week 1, but his status for the matchup with the Cleveland Browns is positive.
The Steelers also have defensive linemen Isaiahh Loudermilk and Armon Watts, along with rookie Keeanu Benton. Pittsburgh will be calling on more from all of them to replace Heyward.
“I’ve been really impressed by the growth and development in not only Leal and Loudermilk, but other guys like Benton and others,” Tomlin told reporters.
The Steelers have Breiden Fehoko they could elevate from the practice squad as well.
How much confidence Pittsburgh has in that collection of players will heavily influence whether the team contacts J.J. Watt. What kind of football shape Watt is in will also impact whether the Steelers sign the future Hall of Fame member.
According to Overthecap.com, the Steelers have about $6.3 million in cap space remaining for the 2023 season.
“To come out of retirement to play for the Steelers, it is not hard to see that he would likely need some hefty compensation,” wrote Steelers Now’s Nick Farabaugh. “But the Hail Mary heave could give the Steelers the most long-term for the season.
“It depends on whether Watt would even be willing to do it and the football shape he is in right now.”