Ex-Steeler Fuels Speculation of J.J. Watt to Pittsburgh

Getty T.J. Watt and J.J. Watt embrace after coin toss.

Every year since T.J. Watt joined the Pittsburgh Steelers, fans have pined for his older future Hall of Fame brother, J.J. Watt, to do the same.

Those dreams were dashed when Watt announced his retirement in December 2022. But not so fast said one ex-Steeler.

On the May 8 Bleav in Steelers podcast with host Mark Bergin and his sidekick, former Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, the two discussed at length the chances of Watt coming out of retirement for one last hurrah — spurred on by Mike Tomlin inviting the linebacker to come to the Steelers facilities.

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“I know JJ Watt is retired,” said Bergin. “The odds of him coming back, I think, are very, very low, but I think it keeps the door open and if I had to put a percentage on what are the odds J.J. Watt could wind up in a Steeler’s uniform, I’m not going to say never, but I’d say like maybe five percent.”

“Hey J.J., just stay in shape,” Taylor urged.

Like Steelers Nation, Bergin has wanted to hear legit news that J.J. Watt is coming to the Pittsburgh Steelers. “This is something I have like salivated for though we’ve talked about this in previous years and there’s times I’ll say things you think I’m out of my skull but it was like there is that possibility,” he said.

But let’s be realistic, it’s likely to be nothing more than a pipedream. Even if it were to happen, it wouldn’t exactly be a three-headed monster. Watt coming out of retirement for Mike Tomlin would likely be at the cost of a starter’s season. “I don’t think this would happen unless there was a significant injury either to T.J. Watt or Alex Highsmith, so the odds of this happening I don’t think are high,” Bergin added.

“If the Pittsburgh Steelers have a shot in getting into the playoffs and they’re winding up getting to the playoffs and over the course of the Season might have a few injuries, they may not like what they see in terms of free agency,” said Taylor. “You got J.J. at home sitting at the crib. Don’t be surprised.”

Steelers Unit of Edge Rushers

For now, though, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have to settle for what they’ve got. And if you must be content with a duo of starting edge rushers, you can’t do much better than T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. They’re one of the best tandems in the NFL. But a unit is only as good as its depth, as we found out last season with Watt sidelined for seven games. Highsmith had a career season, but he’s only one person and their lack of depth greatly affected their ability to make the quarterback uneasy.

If that five percent chance of Watt coming to Pittsburgh did happen, he’d have to want to make the switch to the outside (he spent his entire 12-year career at end). He’d make do for some quality depth. The Steelers did add one outside guy, via the 132nd of a 259-pick draft, in Nick Herbig. Best known to Steelers Nation as Nate Herbig’s brother, Nick is a Wisconsin product just like his predecessor T.J. Watt.

PFF pegged Herbig as Pittsburgh’s highest-graded pick (87.4) from their class of seven. “The Steelers are all too familiar with productive Wisconsin edge rushers,” Ben Cooper wrote. “From Week 5 to Week 12 last season, Herbig never recorded fewer than three quarterback pressures in a game. That resulted in his second straight 91.0-plus season-long pass-rushing grade.”

Herbig, who the Steelers inked to his rookie deal on May 12, sits behind Watt on the team’s current depth chart. Beyond that, it’s pretty, pretty, pretty thin: Emeke Egbule, Quincy Roche and David Perales.

It’s only mid-offseason and the depth chart is fluid, but let’s hope whatever depth they go into the 2023 season with won’t have to be heavily relied on.

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