T.J. Watt still doesn’t have a new contract, but Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects that his star linebacker will get his desired deal and will be at practice tomorrow.
“I remain optimistic that something is going to get done from a deal perspective,” Tomlin said today (via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor). “That aside, you know, I’m expecting him to work tomorrow. I’m proceeding with the assumption that he’s going to work tomorrow. You know, that’s kind of the approach that I’m taking.”
However, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport isn’t as confident (Twitter link). Watt’s status for tomorrow’s practice is “up in the air,” something that’s especially relevant considering the Steelers’ “practice-to-play” philosophy. Rapoport notes that the Steelers and Watt’s camp had “intense contract negotiations” throughout the summer, and the Steelers are holding fast to their organizational philosophy of not engaging in contract talks after Week 1. Rapoport warns that this deal could take a “very, very long time” and “could get difficult,” meaning Watt could play out the season on the final year of his contract.
So, there’s two matters at hand: Watt’s status for Week 1 and Watt’s extension. Assuming the Steelers stick to their guns, Watt won’t see the field this weekend unless he practices. If Watt sticks to his guns, he won’t practice until he gets a new deal. The main holding point at the moment is guaranteed money, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Twitter. Rapoport provides additional context, citing that the Steelers’ refusal to give anyone full guarantees after the first year of an extension. Watt is presumably pushing for more guaranteed cash.
Watt is currently set to hit free agency following the upcoming campaign. There’s a good chance the former first-rounder becomes the highest-paid defensive player in league history, which would mean an AAV of over $27MM with roughly $80MM in full guarantees. Watt’s performance to date justifies that type of expenditure. Stout against the run and pass, the 26-year-old (27 in October) graded out as Pro Football Focus’ third-best edge player last season out of 108 qualifiers. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time First Team All-Pro, and he has averaged about 14 sacks a year since his sophomore campaign.