Until Friday, a contract like the one linebacker T.J. Watt signed was unheard of in the 88-year history of the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise.
An organization hell-bent on tradition — almost to a fault — broke with tradition when they offered their All-Pro edge-rusher a whopping five-year, $122.089 million contract (per OverTheCap). It’s not just the contract’s value that’s unprecedented; it’s the guaranteed money, which is exactly what Watt was negotiating for.
There are several ways to guarantee money — including via roster bonuses — but since the contract breakdown has not been disclosed, the big financial picture remains unclear. Watt’s contract includes $80 million fully guaranteed through 2023; that much is certain.
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No player, including Ben Roethlisberger, has been awarded that kind of deal from the Steelers front office.
The total value of Watt’s new contract not only exceeds the four-year, $88.8 million one the quarterback signed in 2008, but the $80 million guaranteed portion blows Roethlisberger’s highest guaranteed amount ($37.5 million) out of the water, too (per OverTheCap). Signed in 2019, the two-year contract came with an average salary of $34 million, which, at that time, was the largest offered contract in franchise history.
Shape vs. Football Shape
Who knows what negotiations were like behind the scenes, but Steelers Nation waited for contract news with bated breath. The deal couldn’t come soon enough, as Pittsburgh is set to take off for Buffalo on Saturday.
Because Watt did not take part in team drills until September 8 — the day before his contract was agreed upon — nor did he play in any of the Steelers’ four preseason games, he’s not likely to be in football shape. He’s a Watt, but he’s only human. How much he sees the field on Sunday is a delicate situation that needs close monitoring.
“I think we’ve got to be careful about how many plays he plays,” said Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler in a September 9 press conference. “He’s a veteran. He knows how he feels. He knows how he’s going to feel when he starts playing and stuff like that. We’ve just got to be smart enough to know how much is too much and how much is too little. We’ll try to pick a spot in that situation and keep him healthy if we can.”
Watt echoed his coach’s sentiments with the media on Friday. “They always say it’s different being in shape and being in football shape, and I believe that as well,” Watt said. “I have to be smart and make sure that if I am feeling super gassed, I take myself out of the game.”
Bring on the Bills
Thanks to assistance from the Steelers strength staff during individual conditioning drills while his teammates were practicing, Watt is confident in his readiness for the Buffalo Bills.
“We worked extremely hard to have the Catapult GPS monitor on me, reflecting numbers from last year and trying to make sure that I was in the top percentile of the guys that were active practicing.”
“This week in practice, I felt great. I feel very, very confident,” Watt said of Sunday’s outing in Buffalo, his first game action since the 2020 postseason.
The elusive butterfly that is Bills quarterback Josh Allen has proved to be a challenge in the past for the All-Pro linebacker. In two years and as many games, Watt has just one-half sack on Allen (per Pro Football Reference).