Alex Highsmith

Steelers’ T.J. Watt Placed In Concussion Protocol

DECEMBER 13: Watt has been officially cleared by an independent neurological consultant and is no longer in concussion protocol, per the team’s senior director of communications Burt Lauten. There is still the matter of the NFL and the NFL Players Association’s review of the Steelers’ handling of his concussion check in the team’s Week 14 contest with the Patriots, but Watt’s removal from the protocol likely hints at no issue.

After Watt took a knee to the head from Elliott and returned after a brief check-in on the sideline, he reported concussion like-symptoms the next day. Obviously a potentially dangerous situation, the league decided it would investigate how the team handled Watt’s potential head injury. We’ve seen lots of seemingly concussed players come out of protocol within a week, so despite his clearance, Watt still may have suffered a concussion and returned to play. The league and the NFLPA has set out to determine whether or not that is the case.

DECEMBER 9: The Steelers’ depth on the edge could be tested next weekend. Following news that pass-rusher Alex Highsmith was placed in concussion protocol, the Steelers have announced that T.J. Watt has also been placed in protocol (via Mike Florio of

The Highsmith news didn’t come as a huge surprise. The linebacker exited Thursday’s loss to the Patriots with a neck injury and didn’t end up returning to the game.

The Watt development is a bit more unexpected. The star defender briefly exited Thursday’s game after taking a knee to the face from Ezekiel Elliott on the first play from scrimmage. Florio writes that Watt was briefly checked for a concussion before being cleared to return on the same drive. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo notes that the medical staff also took an extended look at Watt’s jaw/mouth, and Florio says Watt was spotted wearing a tinted visor at one point.

Mark Kaboly of The Athletic passes along that Watt arrived at the team facility yesterday with symptoms, necessitating his placement into concussion protocol. Both Watt and Highsmith will now need to be cleared by an independent neurologist before returning to practice.

Fortunately, the Steelers have time on their side. Kaboly notes that the Steelers are off the next three days. They’ll resume practices on Tuesday in preparation for their Week 15 game against the Colts next Saturday night.

Steelers Extend OLB Alex Highsmith

The Steelers are authorizing another big-ticket extension on their defense. Alex Highsmith is no longer going into a contract year, with’s Ian Rapoport reporting he and the Steelers have agreed on a four-year extension (Twitter link). The Steelers are working fast here, having announced the contract.

Long rumored to be an extension candidate in Pittsburgh, the young edge rusher agreed to terms on a four-year deal worth $68MM. This will lock down the T.J. Watt sidekick through the 2027 season. Highsmith, who is coming off a career-best season, will collect $27.7MM guaranteed and earn $38MM over the deal’s first two seasons, Adam Schefter of tweets. Highsmith will turn 26 next month.

Both team and player had conveyed optimism about this deal being done for months. Back in December of last year, an extension for the former third-round pick became a likelihood. The Steelers prefer to hammer out deals with their extension candidates the summer before their contract years, which always made this the likeliest window for the Highsmith accord to transpire.

I know I am a Pittsburgh Steeler through and through, and just to be a part of this amazing organization for four more years means the world to me, to my wife, to my whole family,” Highsmith said, via Teresa Varley of “This is where I want to be. This is where I want to play ball.”

Pittsburgh came into the week with Watt’s $28MM-per-year deal topping the edge defender market and Minkah Fitzpatrick tied to the No. 2 safety contract. With Cameron Heyward still on a lucrative extension, the Steelers continue to make major investments in their defense. No longer carrying a franchise-QB contract, the Steelers are taking advantage of Kenny Pickett‘s slot deal. They have agreed to extensions with Highsmith, Fitzpatrick and Diontae Johnson over the past year.

The Steelers franchise-tagged Bud Dupree in 2020, keeping him for a sixth season, but began to develop his successor by using a Day 2 pick on Highsmith that year. Highsmith began his career behind the 2015 first-rounder but replaced him alongside Watt after a November ACL tear. Dupree left for the Titans in 2021, and Highsmith began a steady ascent. That climb crested last year, when the Charlotte alum produced a 14.5-sack season that included an NFL-leading five forced fumbles. Highsmith has 22.5 career sacks.

This agreement marks a bit of a throwback move for the Steelers, who are now one of just two teams carrying two top-10 edge rusher contracts (along with the Chargers). Pittsburgh had followed the traditional setup of rostering one highly paid edge in recent years, but the organization does have experience in this territory. Pittsburgh had both James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on veteran extensions in the early 2010s, with Harrison signing his first extension in 2009 and Woodley joining him in 2011. This arrangement lasted three seasons (2011-13) before the team parted ways with both players (Harrison later returned to the team, while Woodley did not).

Eleven of Highsmith’s 14.5 sacks last season came when Watt was active; the younger pass rusher was slightly less effective during the All-Pro’s time rehabbing a partial pectoral tear. But the Steelers have come to view Highsmith as a core player as well. Watt has also avoided notable injuries aside from his September 2022 setback. This contract, which matches Shaquil Barrett and Chandler Jones for the 10th-most lucrative (AAV-wise) pact among outside rushers, confirms that commitment and could represent value for the team.

Barrett and Jones signed those deals in 2021. Highsmith could have taken his chances with a strong contract year that moved him past the $20MM-AAV barrier as a 2024 free agent. But the Steelers would have had the franchise tag at their disposal as well. With Highsmith committing to the team long term, the Steelers have two prime-years edge rushers locked in for many seasons.

Steelers OLB Alex Highsmith Addresses Extension Talks

One of the top remaining offseason priorities for the Steelers is finalizing an extension with pass rusher Alex Highsmith, something which will no doubt require a lucrative long-term commitment. Efforts on that front are already underway, and his latest remarks on the subject are optimistic in nature.

“That would be awesome,” Highsmith said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, when asked about the possibility of having a deal in place by training camp. “We’ll see what happens. I’m confident with the way things are going… Right now, I just want to focus on ball.”

Contract negotiations have been taking place since May, a logical step from the Steelers’ perspective considering Highsmith’s value to the team’s pass rush. The 25-year-old has taken a signficant step forward in sack production during each of his three years in the league, and he registered 14.5 in 2022. That further proved his effectiveness as a compliment to All-Pro T.J. Watt, but a downturn in effectiveness during the latter’s missed time could cloud his value in the team’s eyes.

Highsmith should be in line for a signficant raise as early as this summer, as general manager Omar Khan acknowledged last month. Should talks stall over the effect Watt has on the former third-rounder’s production (not to mention the team’s substantial investment in Watt), though, Highsmith’s performance in 2023 would increasingly be worth watching. Requiring Pittsburgh to use the franchise tag or risk him hitting the open market would mark a troubling and unexpected turn of events in his case.

If each party gets their way, however, a multi-year extension may very well be in place by the time training camp opens next month. A long-term Watt-Highsmith combination would be costly for the Steelers, of course, but keeping the tandem in place would allow the team to remain elite in the pass-rush department for years to come. Working out the details of a second contract for the latter figures to be high on the agenda for Pittsburgh in the coming weeks.

Steelers, OLB Alex Highsmith Begin Extension Talks

Although the Steelers have the NFL’s highest-paid edge rusher on their cap sheet, signs continue to point to the team strongly considering making room for an Alex Highsmith extension as well. The T.J. Watt sidekick is going into a contract year, and the team has begun talks on a new deal.

Highsmith confirmed (via’s Brooke Pryor) his agent has started extension talks with the Steelers. The fourth-year pass rusher expressed optimism a deal will be completed, and given the dialogue over the past several months — including a strong endorsement on this front from GM Omar Khan — optimism makes sense.

[RELATED: Steelers Sign OLB Markus Golden]

With Watt out for a chunk of last season due to a pectoral injury, Highsmith stepped forward as Pittsburgh’s stop pass rusher. The former third-round pick tallied 14.5 sacks, the most by a non-Watt Steeler since James Harrison‘s 2008 Defensive Player of the Year season. That number tied for the fifth-most in Steelers history, and Highsmith’s 17.5 sacks over his past 20 games rank second in the NFL. This stands to put the franchise to a decision. It appears the Steelers are angling to keep Highsmith as a long-term Watt complementary presence.

Early optimism notwithstanding, these could be tricky negotiations. Highsmith, 25, zoomed onto the radar for a big payday last season, a showing that also included an NFL-leading five forced fumbles. Highsmith could bet on himself and aim for a big contract year, putting the Steelers to a choice of franchise-tagging him or reaching a deal to prevent a free agency departure. But just three of Highsmith’s 2022 sacks came during the seven games Watt missed. Watt naturally creates favorable matchups for the Steelers’ other pass rushers, but the team viewing Highsmith as a clear No. 2 edge could lead to negotiations beginning at a lower rate.

The Chargers are the NFL’s only team with two edge rushers (Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack) earning more than $20MM on average. The Giants now have two interior D-linemen (Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence) signed to deals in that neighborhood, but Williams is in a contract year. Pittsburgh will be expecting Watt to play at this level for several more years, and a Highsmith re-up would need to accompany his $28MM-per-year salary.

The Steelers have some flexibility here, with Kenny Pickett on a rookie contract and only one offensive player (Diontae Johnson) tied to an eight-figure-per-year deal. But Highsmith could certainly push for an extension north of $15MM per year. The Steelers will likely attempt to keep the price south of $20MM per annum, but while the franchise did not extend Bud Dupree after franchise-tagging him in 2020, it has a history of using this blueprint. Harrison and LaMarr Woodley teamed up on veteran extensions in the early 2010s, with Harrison signing his first extension in 2009 and Woodley joining him in 2011. Woodley stayed in Pittsburgh through the ’13 season. Highsmith’s resume is not quite where Woodley’s was prior to his extension, so it will be interesting to see what numbers emerge here during these talks.

Highsmith checked in as Dupree’s eventual replacement, coming from a mid-major program (Charlotte). Khan extended both Johnson and Minkah Fitzpatrick last summer. With the Steelers preferring to hammer out extensions before the candidate’s walk year, a resolution here should be expected in the coming weeks.

Latest On Steelers LB Alex Highsmith

The Steelers still intend to make Alex Highsmith a foundational part of their defense. While we haven’t heard many updates on the edge rusher’s extension talks, general manager Omar Khan made it clear this week that he intends to sign the player to a long-term pact.

“We don’t like to talk specifically about an individual contract, but I’ll say this, he’s a Steeler,” Khan said during an appearance on 93.7 The Fan (via Josh Alper of “Since the day he got here, he’s been awesome. He gets better and better every year, and I really hope Alex is here for a long time.”

Back in December, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic suggested that a Highsmith extension was inevitable and “a done deal.” The writer still believes that’s the case, and while the Steelers would traditionally hand out these types of extensions in August or September, Kaboly believes “Khan would probably like to get it done before the start of camp” in July.

After starting all 16 of his appearances in 2021, Highsmith had a breakout season in 2022. The former third-round pick finished the campaign with 14.5 sacks and a league-leading five forced fumbles, leading to him ranking 28th among 119 qualifying edge players on Pro Football Focus’ positional rankings.

As Kaboly notes, there could be a few complications during negotiations. For starters, the Steelers already gave edge rusher T.J. Watt a four-year, $112MM extension that featured $80MM in guaranteed money. While most teams aren’t investing big contracts in two edge rushers, the Steelers’ rookie-contract offensive players could allow them to extend on the defensive side of the ball.

As of right now, Highsmith is set to earn $2.74MM in the final year of his rookie contract. As Kaboly notes, the Steelers currently don’t have the cap space to give the 25-year-old a lucrative extension, but they could easily carve out that space by restructuring the contracts of high-priced players like Watt, Diontae Johnson, and/or James Daniels.

Steelers Expected To Extend OLB Alex Highsmith

The Steelers are expected to extend linebacker Alex Highsmith this offseason, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (subscription required). In Kaboly’s estimation, a new contract for the Charlotte product is “a done deal.”

A 2020 third-rounder, Highsmith will be extension-eligible for the first time at season’s end, and he has certainly earned a hefty raise on his rookie salary. Through 13 games this season, he has compiled a career-best 10 sacks, and that statistic in and of itself would make him a hot commodity if he were on the open market. His pass rush work is supported by a strong Pro Football Focus grade against the run (70.5) and a stellar mark in coverage (88.4).

So, despite Kaboly’s acknowledgement that Highsmith has been inconsistent at times, it is clear — as head coach Mike Tomlin has stated — that he is an ascending player who has yet to reach his ceiling. Pittsburgh has been ranked in or near the bottom-10 in terms of total defense over the last two seasons, but in T.J. Watt and Highsmith, the club boasts one of the best OLB tandems in the league.

Watt, who has played in only six games thus far in 2022 due to a pectoral injury and knee surgery, signed a record-setting four-year, $112MM contract last September, which features $80MM in guaranteed money. While Highsmith’s next contract will certainly not be in that stratosphere, a ~$17MM/year deal akin to those signed by players like Harold Landry and Shaquil Barrett would seem to be a fair ask. Plus, as long as the Steelers’ presumptive starting quarterback (Kenny Pickett) is playing on a rookie contract, the team can afford to splurge on other areas of the roster, especially at premium positions.

In related news, Steelers defensive lineman Chris Wormley has suffered a torn ACL, per Ian Rapoport of (via Twitter). Wormley was placed on IR earlier this week, thereby bringing an end to a disappointing platform year. Acquired via an intra-divisonal trade with the Ravens in 2020, Wormley did enough that year to earn a two-year, $4.5MM deal with the Steelers the following offseason.

Wormley, 29, more than lived up to that contract in 2021, starting 14 games, logging a 71% snap share, and posting seven sacks. This year, he was relegated to more of a rotational role and will now enter free agency in the midst of recovery from ACL surgery.

Steelers Eyeing OLB Depth?

The Steelers did some work to improve their depth at multiple positions this offseason. One area that could still use some work is outside linebacker, and Mark Kaboly of The Athletic believes the Steelers will address the position in late August following final cuts.

The team is obviously set when it comes to their starting lineup. T.J. Watt is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, while former third-round pick Alex Highsmith is coming off a breakout year that saw him compile six sacks. That duo may be one of the best OLB tandems in the NFL,and Highsmith is hoping they can establish themselves as the best OLB grouping by taking his own game to another level.

“I definitely feel I can be more productive sacks-wise. This year hitting double digits is a main goal of mine. At least 10 or 12. Somewhere around there,” Highsmith told Tim Benz of “Refining a lot of my game. Whether that’s pass-rushing or getting more physical in the run game. No matter how much of a jump I make, I feel like I can always get better.”

However, it’s the depth behind the starting outside linebackers that’s questionable. At the moment, the grouping of Derrek Tuszka, Genard Avery, Tuzar Skipper, Delontae Scott are currently slotted in to compete for backup reps at the position. The Steelers also brought in a pair of undrafted rookies at the position in T.D. Moultry and Tyree Johnson.

As Kaboly writes, the Steelers are looking to avoid the situation that happened against the Vikings last season, when neither of the two outside linebackers could suit up. The two players have been healthy throughout their career, but experienced depth would make an injury a bit more tolerable.

Steelers’ T.J. Watt To Miss Week 3

Although Ben Roethlisberger‘s pectoral injury will not deter him from suiting up Sunday, the Steelers will be without both their scrimmage yards leader (Diontae Johnson) and their best defender.

Pittsburgh declared T.J. Watt out for its Week 3 game against Cincinnati. Watt suffered a groin injury midway through the Steelers’ Week 2 loss to the Raiders. The All-Pro outside linebacker managed three limited practices this week and entered the weekend with a questionable designation, but the Steelers will give him the weekend off.

This will be only Watt’s second injury-related absence as a pro. He missed Week 3 of his rookie season, with a groin injury sidelining him for that 2017 contest as well.

Sunday’s Steelers front seven configuration will look quite different, with the team also declaring its other outside linebacker starter — Alex Highsmith — out. The second-year edge rusher is also battling a groin ailment. Stephon Tuitt is on IR, while the Steelers placed nose tackle Tyson Alualu on their injured list this week.

Watt and Highsmith’s absences will leave recent signing Melvin Ingram to spearhead Pittsburgh’s pass rush, which has led the NFL in sacks in each of the past four seasons. The Steelers’ injury issues represent a potential reprieve for a Bengals offensive line that has allowed Joe Burrow to be sacked 10 times through two games.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 7/22/20

Here are the latest draft pick signings. With rookies set to report to teams’ training camps this week, teams are busy on this front.

  • The Vikings were the busiest team in the draft, making 15 picks this year. They have been active signing them Wednesday. Beyond first-rounder Justin Jefferson, Minnesota has agreed to terms with second-round tackle Ezra Cleveland, fourth-round linebacker Troy Dye, fourth-round defensive tackle James Lynch and seventh-round offensive lineman Kyle Hinton. Cleveland, rumored as a possible late-first-round selection, will be groomed to become a near-future starter for the Vikings.
  • The Broncos began signing some of their picks, most notably getting third-rounders Michael Ojemudia and McTelvin Agim under contract. A cornerback, Ojemudia is set to compete for a starting job opposite A.J. Bouye; Agim profiles as D-line depth behind established starters this season. Denver also signed fourth-round tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, a Mizzou alum set to rejoin his former quarterback (Drew Lock) in the Mile High City. The Broncos also reached an agreement with seventh-round outside linebacker Derrek Tuszka.
  • Despite having T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree under contract, the Steelers used a third-round pick on outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. The Charlotte alum agreed to terms on his four-year rookie deal. Highsmith recorded 15 sacks at the mid-major program last season.
  • Packers third-round pick Josiah Deguara also agreed on his four-year rookie contract. Green Bay eschewed its wide receiver need throughout the draft, using Day 2 to add a running back (A.J. Dillon) and Deguara, who profiles as a tight end/fullback. The Cincinnati product surpassed 900 yards between his final two college seasons, totaling 12 touchdown grabs in that span.
  • Tennessee third-round running back Darrynton Evans signed his rookie deal as well. Evans looks set to replace Dion Lewis as the TitansDerrick Henry change-of-pace back. The Appalachian State alum rushed for 1,480 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He added five receiving TDs.
  • The Giants used first- and third-round picks on tackles. The latter selection, UConn’s Matt Peart, agreed to the terms of his rookie deal Wednesday. Peart profiles as a developmental lineman, working behind expected starters Nate Solder and Andrew Thomas. He stands to join Cameron Fleming as depth for Big Blue.
  • Washington has agreed to terms with third-round running back/wideout Antonio Gibson, fourth-round receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden and fifth-round center Keith Ismael. Gibson and Gandy-Golden figure to be key parts of a Washington offense that is limited, beyond Terry McLaurin, in the passing game. Gibson totaled 1,104 yards from scrimmage at Memphis last season, while Gandy-Golden caught 20 touchdown passes in two years at Liberty.
  • Fourth-round Cowboys pick Reggie Robinson agreed to terms as well. The Tulsa cornerback joins a Cowboys team that lost Byron Jones in free agency. Dallas was active in an effort to replace the Pro Bowler, drafting Trevon Diggs in Round 2 and signing Daryl Worley.
  • Sixth-round Chargers safety Alohi Gilman, a Notre Dame alum, signed his Chargers contract Wednesday. Gillman joins a deep Bolts safety corps.
  • The Buccaneers drafted two running backs this year. On Wednesday, they agreed to terms with the second of those picks — seventh-rounder Raymond Calais. In addition to his work as a running back at Louisiana, Calais was a four-year kick returner for the Rajin’ Cajuns.