T.J. Watt

Steelers To Place T.J. Watt On IR

The Steelers received good news earlier this week on the T.J. Watt front. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year avoided season-ending pectoral surgery. Watt’s chest injury will still keep him out for a while, however.

Although this has not become official yet, ESPN.com’s Field Yates notes Watt will be placed on IR (Twitter link). Pittsburgh is also signing outside linebacker David Anenih off Tennessee’s practice squad. These moves are now official.

An IR placement ahead of Week 2 means Watt’s return window would open in Week 6. It is not yet certain the accomplished pass rusher can hit that mark, the Watt family’s success at rehabbing injuries notwithstanding. But the sixth-year veteran could make it back in as early as five weeks. While the Steelers could be cautious with their top player, Watt returning before the midseason point represents a vast status improvement compared to where this situation appeared headed after he left the team’s opener.

Anenih will be the latest Steelers outside linebacker hire for a Steelers team that has turned this group over in recent weeks. Alex Highsmith now becomes the team’s top healthy edge, but his supporting cast looks vastly different compared to its August complexion.

Three-year Broncos fill-in starter Malik Reed will take on that role for the Steelers, being acquired for just a 2023 seventh-round pick. The Steelers also claimed Jamir Jones off waivers from the Jaguars earlier this month. Former second-round Washington pick Ryan Anderson — who was not with a team last season — is now on Pittsburgh’s practice squad. Third-year outside ‘backer Delontae Scott joins Anderson on Pittsburgh’s P-squad, but the team has otherwise overhauled its set of backup edge defenders.

Anenih is a rookie UDFA out of Houston who was one of many current NFL rookies — Kenny Pickett among them — to enter the league after using the fifth year of eligibility the NCAA allowed after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Anenih totaled a career-best 10 tackles for loss to go along with five sacks. During his five-year Cougars career, Anenih tallied 20.5 sacks. The Titans allowed Anenih to leave, rather than promote him to their active roster. That is a somewhat interesting move considering the team recently lost top edge rusher Harold Landry for the season.

The Steelers will face the Patriots, Browns, Jets and Bills without Watt. Three more games — against the Buccaneers, Dolphins and Eagles — come before the team’s Week 9 bye. Watt’s new timetable would point to that stretch being his activation window.

AFC Injury Notes: Ravens, Watt, Bengals

J.K. Dobbins returned to practice today, with the running back hoping to make his long-awaited return to the field this Sunday. The Ravens running back admitted that his injury “wasn’t just a normal ACL,” with Dobbins explaining that he tore his ACL, LCL, hamstring, and meniscus at the end of the 2021 preseason (per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley on Twitter). It’s been just over a year since Dobbins suffered his injury.

“It would mean the world to me if I can go out there this Sunday and play well in front of a full house,” Dobbins said (via Hensley).

Fellow running back Gus Edwards also missed the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL, but thanks to his placement on PUP, he’ll have to sit out the first four games of the season. Still, Edwards took to Instagram to tell fans that he continues to progress in his recovery and eventual return to the field.

“For everybody wondering about my recovery I’m doing great and I’m very close,” Edwards wrote.

More injury notes from around the AFC…

  • The news keeps getting better for T.J. Watt and the Steelers. The star linebacker could recover from his partially torn pectoral muscle within five weeks, according to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com. There was initial fear that Watt had completely torn his pec, which would have ended his season. The news quickly got better; we learned yesterday that Watt wouldn’t need surgery and could be back within six weeks.
  • Bengals long snapper Clark Harris is expected to miss an extended amount of time after tearing his biceps, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (via Twitter). While Zac Taylor didn’t want to rule out the LS for the season, he did acknowledge that the 38-year-old will miss at least a few months (via ESPN’s Ben Baby on Twitter). Harris, a one-time Pro Bowler, has been with the organization since 2009. Cal Adomitis will get the first shot to replace Harris at long snapper.
  • J.C. Jackson has been listed as questionable for tomorrow’s game against the Chiefs, and Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said earlier this week that the cornerback has a “50-50” shot at playing (per NFL Network’s James Palmer on Twitter). Jackson previously suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss the team’s Week 1 victory over the Raiders. After earning a second-team All-Pro nod with the Patriots in 2021, Jackson joined Los Angeles this offseason on a five-year, $82.5MM deal. Meanwhile, both Chargers wideout Keenan Allen (hamstring) and Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker (ankle) have been ruled out for Thursday’s showdown.
  • Mac Jones dealt with back spasms following the Patriots‘ Week 1 loss to the Dolphins, but the quarterback continues to improve, according to NFL Network’s Mike Giardi (on Twitter). A source told Giardi that the QB is “doing everything he needs to” in order to be on the field for this weekend’s matchup against the Steelers. Jones and the Patriots offense struggled during the season opener, with the second-year QB guiding New England to only one touchdown.

Steelers’ T.J. Watt Will Not Require Surgery

The best-case scenario has been confirmed with respect to T.J. WattThe Steelers’ top defender will not require surgery, and he will begin the rehab process which should keep him sidelined for roughly six weeks, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports (on Twitter). 

Watt suffered a torn pectoral muscle, as was initially feared. However, as Rapoport details, the tendon was not torn, leaving rehab as an alternative to what would have likely been season-ending surgery. By taking the former route, Watt will be able to return at some point relatively soon, as he confirmed (on Twitter) this afternoon.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Watt’s absence will still be felt, of course. Pittsburgh will turn to 2020 third-rounder Alex Highsmith and recent trade acquisition Malik Reed as starters on the edge. Not surprisingly, the team has already taken steps to add depth at the position, though.

The Steelers signed Ryan Anderson to the practice squad, per Rapoport’s colleague Tom Pelissero (Twitter link). A former second-round pick, the 28-year-old never lived up to his draft stock during his four seasons in Washington, with his best career season coming in 2019 (44 tackles, four sacks, five forced fumbles). He initially signed with the Giants last offseason, but was cut in August and did not see any action in 2021.

Anderson could see himself elevated on gamedays; the Steelers are also likely to be active in searching for more depth options on the open market. It remains to be seen if Watt will be placed on IR to open a roster spot, but the fact that he will return around the midway mark of the season is a hugely positive development for the Steelers’ 2022 aspirations.

Steelers Hopeful T.J. Watt Can Return In October

SEPTEMBER 13: More information is still being gathered, but there is a growing sense that surgery will not be needed and that, as a result, Watt will indeed be able to return in roughly six weeks (Twitter link via Rapoport). His colleague Tom Pelissero tweets that the Steelers are likely to place him on IR given that timeframe, though they have yet to do so.

SEPTEMBER 12: The next couple of days will be important for the Steelers’ 2022 defensive aspirations. Fears of T.J. Watt having suffered a torn pectoral muscle have not been proven unfounded, but the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year is not being shut down for multiple months just yet.

Watt will receive second and third opinions from doctors on Tuesday, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter report (Twitter links). A surgery would likely lead to a season-ending shutdown, but the Steelers are also optimistic Watt did not suffer a full tear. The team is hopeful Watt, in the event of a partial tear, could to return in around a month, per CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones (on Twitter).

Pittsburgh’s wild overtime win finished without Watt, who left the field during the fourth quarter. The NFL’s two-time reigning sack leader posted a sack — one of the Steelers’ seven on Joe Burrow in Week 1 — and three tackles for loss in Pittsburgh’s five-period victory. Their prospects of pressuring quarterbacks would take a substantial hit if Watt sustained a full pectoral tear.

In each year of Watt’s career, the Steelers have led the NFL in sacks. That has helped fuel a defensive turnaround, after a more offensively oriented “Killer B’s” period, during that stretch. Since drafting Watt in the 2017 first round, the Steelers have not had to play an extended period without him. Watt, 27, has never missed more than two games in a season.

No matter what the final rounds of testing produce, it appears certain Watt will be out for a while. The league’s highest-paid edge rusher missing half the season and the rest of it are obviously two vastly different realities, however. This season marks the first of Watt’s four-year, $112MM extension. The Steelers No. 2 and No. 3 edge rushers are signed to rookie contracts.

Pittsburgh’s trade for Malik Reed looms large now. The former UDFA will now be in position to play alongside Alex Highsmith. The team sent Denver a 2023 seventh-round pick for the fourth-year veteran last week. Reed has three years’ worth of experience being called into action as a result of a major injury. Bradley Chubb‘s ACL tear made Reed Von Miller‘s top 2019 complementary rusher, and Miller’s season-nullifying ankle injury a year later kept Reed in the lineup. Chubb missed much of last season due to ankle trouble. That and the Miller trade kept Reed (34 career starts) a lineup fixture. Reed played 32 defensive snaps against the Bengals.

Steelers’ T.J. Watt, Najee Harris Ruled Out With Injuries

9:40pm: Mike Giardi of NFL Network reports that a source has informed him that Harris’s foot injury is not considered serious. This is extremely optimistic news for the Steelers considering they were forced to turn to undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren in Harris’s absence.

4:08pm: Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweets that Watt will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine if his and the team’s fears of a torn pectoral muscle are indeed true.

3:59pm: The Steelers have suffered injuries to arguably their two most irreplaceable players. Edge rusher T.J. Watt and running back Najee Harris have each been ruled out of the remainder of the team’s contest against the Bengals with pectoral and foot injuries, respectively (Twitter link via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor).

Watt appeared to suffer his injury in the fourth quarter. When walking off the field, he seemed to indicate that he had torn his pectoral muscle, Pryor’s colleague Field Yates tweets. Any significant absence for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year could be crippling for the Steelers.

Watt led the league in sacks for the second straight year in 2021, notching 22.5. That provided a fruitful return on investment for Pittsburgh, after they signed him to a four-year, $112MM deal in the lead-up to the campaign. The 27-year-old was only eclipsed by Aaron Donald this summer as the league’s highest-paid defender with annual average of over $28MM per year.

Even with Watt at full health, depth in the edge rush department had been seen as a need for the team this offseason. As a result, it came as little surprise when they traded for Malik Reed from the Broncos. He would be next in line to take on a starting role, and Pittsburgh would need to be active in looking for veteran additions in a similar vein to their Melvin Ingram addition last season.

The fact that Harris’ injury was a foot ailment is also concerning, given that fact that he suffered a Lisfranc sprain in training camp. He had recovered in time to play the Steelers’ season opener, though he only received 10 carries before exiting the game. After his Pro Bowl rookie season last year, Harris is expected to once again be a focal point of the team’s offense and would represent a massive loss in the event of an extended absence.

The Steelers have beaten the Bengals after a wild overtime finish, but the victory may very well have come at an enormous cost.

Contract Details: Watt, Rams, Texans

With teams preparing their cap sheets for the start of the NFL season, we’ve seen a number of front offices rework some contracts. We’ve compiled some of the recent contract maneuverings (as well as some details on recent signings and extension) below:

  • T.J. Watt, LB (Steelers): restructured contract yesterday, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). The move opened $6.75MM in space for Pittsburgh. Watt inked a four-year deal worth up to $112MM (including $80MM guaranteed) last September.
  • Rob Havenstein, OT (Rams): three-year extension. The deal is worth $34.5MM, according to Rapoport (on Twitter). The extension includes $24.1MM guaranteed and offers $6MM in incentives.
  • Tyler Higbee, TE (Rams): restructured contract earlier this week, according to ESPN’s Field Yates (on Twitter). The team converted $4.75MM of Higbee’s base salary into a signing bonus, creating $3.8MM in space.
  • Jalen Thompson, S (Cardinals): three-year extension. The $40MM deal includes $24.5MM in guaranteed money and a $10MM signing bonus, according to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com (on Twitter).
  • Lane Johnson, OT and Jake Elliott, K (Eagles): restructured contracts today, according to Yates (on Twitter). The Eagles converted $5.88MM of Johnson’s base salary and $2.715MM of Elliot’s base salary into signing bonuses, creating about $6.9MM in cap space.
  • O.J. Howard, TE (Texans): one-year deal. The contract is worth $1.035MM, according to Wilson (on Twitter). The tight end will receive $910K in offset from the $1.945MM guaranteed base salary he got from his previous deal with the Bills. When coupled with the $1.25MM signing bonus he got from Buffalo, Howard will earn a total of $3.25MM this year.
  • Eric Murray, S (Texans): restructured contract yesterday, per Yates (on Twitter). Specifically, the team converted $1.465MM of his contract into a signing bonus, opening $732.5K in cap space.
  • Ka’imi Fairbairn, K and Cameron Johnston, P (Texans): restructured contracts earlier this week, per Wilson (on Twitter). The two moves saved the Texans $2.1MM in cap savings.

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 TribLive.com. “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.

Largest 2022 Cap Hits: Defense

After looking at this year’s top salary cap numbers on the offensive side of the ball, here is a rundown of the players counting the most toward their teams’ payrolls in 2022.

As could be expected, the salary figures here start below the quarterbacks. A few pass rushers, however, are tied to notable cap hits. Those numbers that check in within the top 20 leaguewide regardless of position. With the exception of true nose tackles and pure slot cornerbacks, every defensive position is represented here.

Here are the top cap figures on the defensive side for the ’22 season:

  1. T.J. Watt, OLB (Steelers): $31.12MM
  2. Chris Jones, DT (Chiefs): $29.42MM
  3. Joey Bosa, OLB (Chargers): $28.25MM
  4. Leonard Williams, DL (Giants): $27.3MM
  5. Aaron Donald, DT (Rams): $27MM
  6. Jalen Ramsey, CB (Rams): $23.2MM
  7. Deion Jones, LB (Falcons): $20.1MM
  8. Bud Dupree, OLB (Titans): $19.2MM
  9. Justin Simmons, S (Broncos): $18.85MM
  10. Javon Hargrave, DT (Eagles): $17.8MM
  11. C.J. Mosley, LB (Jets): $17.5MM
  12. Cameron Heyward, DL (Steelers): $17.42MM
  13. Robert Quinn, DE (Bears): $17.14MM
  14. Matt Judon, OLB (Patriots): $16.5MM
  15. DeForest Buckner, DT (Colts): $16MM
  16. Shaquill Griffin, CB (Jaguars): $16.44MM
  17. Tre’Davious White, CB (Bills): $16.4MM
  18. J.J. Watt, DL (Cardinals): $15.9MM
  19. Marcus Peters, CB (Ravens): $15.5MM
  20. Carl Lawson, DE (Jets): $15.33MM
  21. Eddie Jackson, S (Bears): $15.1MM
  22. Lavonte David, LB (Buccaneers): $14.79MM
  23. Budda Baker, S (Cardinals): $14.78MM
  24. Romeo Okwara, DE (Lions): $14.5MM
  25. Trey Hendrickson, DE (Bengals): $14.49MM
  • Illustrating how much the cap has climbed over the past several seasons, T.J. Watt is tied to a number nearly twice that of J.J. Watt, who has been tied to $16.7MM-per-year (a defender-record number in 2014) and $14MM-AAV deals as a pro. Trailing his older brother in Defensive Player of the Year honors, T.J. is signed to an edge defender-record $28MM-per-year accord.
  • Jones’ four-year Chiefs deal vaults from an $8.5MM cap number in 2021 to the league’s second-highest defensive figure this year. The standout defensive tackle’s cap hit accompanies Patrick Mahomes‘ $35.79MM number, which is well north of his 2021 figure, on Kansas City’s new-look payroll.
  • After two franchise tags, Williams scored a monster extension in 2021. The well-paid Giants D-lineman’s cap number this year is way up from his 2021 number ($9.4MM).
  • The Rams redid Donald’s contract last month, adding no new years to the through-2024 pact. The all-world defender’s cap hit actually decreases in 2023, dropping to $26MM
  • It is not certain Deion Jones will be back with the Falcons, who have jettisoned other Super Bowl LI cornerstones from the roster since the current regime took over in 2021. But they would save just $1MM were they to release the seventh-year linebacker.
  • To date, this represents the high-water mark for Mosley cap hits on his Jets deal, which at the time (2019) began a sea change for off-ball linebacker contracts. Mosley’s cap hit, on a pact that runs through 2024 because of the linebacker opting out of the 2020 season, increased by $10MM from 2021-22.
  • Hargrave is one of five Eagles pass rushers signed to veteran contracts. The ex-Steeler’s 2021 deal accompanies Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Haason Reddick, and Fletcher Cox‘s new agreement on Philadelphia’s defensive front. As cap hits do not reflect average salaries, Hargrave is the only member of this quartet tied to an eight-figure cap number in 2022.
  • Quinn has also been connected to a departure, with the 31-year-old pass rusher skipping minicamp after it became known he would like to be traded away from the rebuilding team. His cap hit tops the Bears’ payroll. The Bears would save $12.9MM by trading Quinn, should another team sign up for taking on his full 2022 base salary.

Waddle Sets Rookie Receptions Record

The 18-game NFL regular season sees another record fall. In the Dolphins’ first drive of today’s game against the Patriots, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa found his favorite target, receiver Jaylen Waddle, three times, pushing Waddle’s rookie-season total receptions to 102 and cementing that Waddle would end the day with an NFL record.

Waddle finished the game with 5 catches for only 27 yards, but those first three catches resulted in Waddle passing Anquan Boldin for most receptions in a single season for a rookie in NFL history. Boldin’s record of 101 receptions has stood since 2003. Waddle came into the game with 99 catches, so his 5 today make the new mark to beat 104.

Like most records this season, this will have a bit of an asterisk on it, since the record was reached in an 18-week season, as opposed to a 17-week season. While Waddle did technically catch more balls in the same amount of games as Boldin, Waddle did have the benefit of a week of rest outside the traditional bye week when he missed their Week 15 game against the Jets on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Waddle was joined today by T.J. Watt who tied Michael Strahan’s record for most sacks in a single season with 22.5. While Watt also had the luxury of being able to miss a game and still play the same amount of games that Strahan did back in 2001, Watt actually accomplished his total while only appearing in 15 games this year. This is sure to be a continuing trend in the coming years as players are given an additional opportunity to pad their stats.

Steelers LB T.J. Watt Exits Thursday’s Game

An ugly night for the Steelers has gotten even worse. The Steelers are trailing the Vikings by a significant margin on Thursday Night Football, and the team will have to finish the game without their best player. The team announced that linebacker T.J. Watt has been ruled out for the game with a groin injury. Watt was previously labeled with a questionable tag after exiting the game in the second quarter.

Watt had a tackle and a QB hit before exiting tonight’s contest. In his 10 previous games this season, the 27-year-old had collected a league-leading 16 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Watt also has 47 total tackles, 26 QB hits, and four forced fumbles.

The linebacker previously missed a pair of games this season thanks to separate hip and knee injuries, and he had to exit an additional two games due to injury. He also spent a week out of practice after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Prior to this season, Watt had only missed a pair of regular season games in four seasons.

The Steelers are lacking linebacker depth at the moment, leaving Derrek Tuszka as the only option to replace Watt in the lineup. The former seventh-round pick has seen time in 10 games for Pittsburgh this season, collecting nine tackles. The 25-year-old has seen an uptick in snaps over the past few weeks, averaging 20.75 defensive plays per game between Week 10 and Week 13.