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 NFL.com (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.