Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt is entering the last year of the contract he signed as a rookie in 2017, so the prospect of a long-term contract extension figures to be a hot topic all summer long. But don’t expect Watt to have much—if anything—to say about the progress of those negotiations.
On Tuesday morning Watt met with the media in advance of this week’s mandatory minicamp and Brooke Pryor of ESPN asked him about the status of contract talks. More specifically, she asked whether the Steelers have made it clear that a contract extension is “in the works.”
Watt flatly shut down that line of discussion, clamming up after saying, “With respect to the process, I am not going to be talking about any contract stuff today.”
That said, all we know is how the Steelers feel about the prospect of a contract extension. In March team president Art Rooney II indicated that the organization is “certainly going to try” to sign last year’s Defensive Player of the Year runner-up to a long-term contract extension. “We certainly look at T.J. as a key player in the future. I can assure you we’ll do everything we can to keep T.J. on our roster beyond this year,” he said.
But it doesn’t figure to be an easy negotiation, as the deal could very well be record-setting—more lucrative than the one signed by Cleveland Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett, who inked a five-year, $125 million contract extension last summer.
If history is any indication, the Steelers will try to consummate a deal with Watt just prior to the start of the 2021 regular season, which would ensure that he doesn’t have the opportunity to test free agency in 2022.
Meanwhile, Watt is scheduled to earn $10,089,000 this season under the fifth-year option the Steelers exercised last spring.
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T.J. Watt Offers Praise for Fellow OLB Alex Highsmith
While Watt refused to talk about his contract on Tuesday, he was effusive in his praise of second-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, who figures to replace Bud Dupree in the starting lineup this season. (Dupree signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Tennessee Titans in free agency back in March.)
“I think he has a great repertoire of moves already,” began Watt, speaking about the former third-round pick out of Charlotte. “He can spin, he can do his ‘ghost’ move, he’s developing more power in his game. I think that’s a real high positive…. It’s just a matter of him being more consistent….
“That’s the biggest challenge of being an NFL football player, trying to be consistent week in and week out,” added Watt. “I’ve said it time and time again. Anybody can have a great game. It’s about putting together great weeks and great seasons, and that starts with being here at minicamp.”
As for the possibility of defenders sliding protection his way now that Dupree is playing elsewhere, Watt seemed unconcerned.
“Alex is a really talented pass rusher himself,” insisted Watt. “So if guys want to slide my way and chip and everything, he is going to have one-on-ones on the back side and I’m very confident he is going to win the majority of those battles. I don’t think there’s a way that you can totally protect [yourself from] both of us at one time.”
Defensive Player of the Year Not a Motivating Factor
As for the idea that being repeatedly snubbed for Defensive Player of the Year will motivate him to try to be even better in 2021, he dismissed that notion as well.
“I don’t think it’s driving me,” he offered. “More than anything I just want to be the best possible player I can be, not only for myself but for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I want to continue to make splash plays,” he added, echoing what he said prior to last season, when he indicated that he wanted to be “a game wrecker.”
“A big thing for me is just noticing all the plays that I didn’t make last year…. Yeah, there’s a lot of good from last year but there’s also a lot I want to continue to improve on. That’s why I love this game so much—you are never at your ceiling. I am just trying to get better every year and that’s what I intend to do starting this minicamp.”
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