T.J. Watt

Steelers LB T.J. Watt Got Three Fully Guaranteed Years On Extension

One of the major sticking points between T.J. Watt and the Steelers was the organization’s refusal to fully guarantee contracts beyond the first year of the pact. Well, the team ignored their policy today. As Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com writes, the Steelers organization fully guaranteed three years of Watt’s extension.

[RELATED: Steelers, T.J. Watt Agree On Record-Setting Extension]

To review: the star linebacker inked a new four-year, $112MM deal with the Steelers, including $80MM guaranteed. $35MM of that guaranteed money came via a signing bonus, while the other $45MM will be handed out in each of the next three years. Watt’s $1MM 2021 base salary is predictably guaranteed, as is his 2022 base salary ($24MM) and 2023 base salary ($20MM). Watt has identical $21.05MM base salaries in both 2024 and 2025, neither of which are guaranteed.

The Steelers were willing to move past their stubborn financial policy, but it’s still uncertain if Watt is an exception or a changing of philosophy. As Florio notes, today’s move could simply be an “aberration” instead of a “trend.”

Florio also explored how those three fully guaranteed years compare to the NFL’s other top defensive deals. Watt will earn that $80MM through the first three years of his contract; Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa will receive $78 million through the first three years of his extension, while Watt also outpaced Bears linebacker Khalil Mack ($73.7MM through three years) and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ($62.546MM through three years).

Interestingly, Watt may have actually left money on the table. As Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports, Watt’s agents believed they could squeeze the Steelers for more cash, but Watt simply went into the office of Steelers president Art Rooney to tell him that the deal was done (Twitter link). He then excused himself to go work out.

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Steelers, T.J. Watt Agree On Record-Setting Extension

The NFL has a new highest-paid defensive player. Days away from Week 1, the Steelers and T.J. Watt ended their impasse. Watt agreed to terms on a four-year deal worth more than $112MM, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Watt will receive $80MM fully guaranteed on a contract that averages more than $28MM annually, Rapoport adds, taking the younger Watt superstar past Joey Bosa among defenders. This certainly looks like a big win for the All-Pro Steelers edge rusher, after he and the Steelers haggled over guarantees at the 11th hour.

Watt’s fully guaranteed figure also tops Bosa’s $78MM on a deal that saw the Steelers break their precedent of not including guaranteed money beyond the first year of extensions. This will bring the two-time All-Pro defender back into the fold ahead of his fifth season. Watt’s pact also surpasses Ben Roethlisberger‘s for guaranteed money in Steelers history; Big Ben’s 2015 extension included $60.75MM guaranteed at signing. Roethlisberger spent this week lobbying for the team to get a Watt deal done, whatever the cost.

The accomplished outside linebacker resumed practicing in full this week, after he went to the increasingly popular hold-in measure during training camp. While Watt only partially went through with a hold-in, participating in non-team portions during preseason workouts, the Steelers have put this matter to rest by rewarding a homegrown talent.

This will be Watt’s age-27 season. Thursday’s agreement prevents a 2022 franchise tag and will tie him to the Steelers through the 2025 campaign. Pittsburgh prefers to finalize its extensions ahead of the regular season. The team deviating from its usual guarantee structure will surely be of interest to Minkah Fitzpatrick, who will be on track for a market-setting extension next year.

Although Watt led the NFL with 15 sacks last season, his 61 quarterback hits placed him well apart from everyone else. No other player compiled more than 45 (Bosa) in 2020. Watt’s 2017 arrival has coincided with the Steelers leading the NFL in sacks in each of the past four seasons. On a Pittsburgh team that lost a few key starters — including longtime outside linebacker starter Bud Dupree — in free agency, Watt will be counted on to reprise his dominant form.

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Latest On Steelers LB T.J. Watt

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.

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T.J. Watt Staging Hold-In

Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt is staging a hold-in. Although Watt has been in attendance at training camp since it opened, he is not participating in any hitting or team drills. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler confirmed that is because Watt is waiting on a contract extension.

I don’t blame him for [sitting out] because you don’t want to get hurt when you are trying to get your contract done; then you lose some sort of flexibility in terms of what you can sign,” Butler said (via Mark Kaboly of The Athletic). “I hope they get it done.”

The Steelers do not like to engage in contract negotiations once a season begins, which means that the club’s Week 1 matchup with the Bills on September 12 would be the deadline for finalizing a Watt extension this year. But while head coach Mike Tomlin generally eases his top players into the grind of training camp, the team still wants Watt to get involved in team activities well before the regular season opener.

Regardless of when it happens, the Steelers will need to dole out a ton of cash to keep Watt in the fold for the long haul. Kaboly expects the Wisconsin product to become 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. Even though Pittsburgh is entering something of an organizational crossroads due to its quarterback situation, retaining Watt seems like an absolute must.

The club did add a little pass rushing support for Watt when it signed Melvin Ingram last month. Pittsburgh was also in on Justin Houston, who ultimately signed with the division-rival Ravens. Houston himself said he was very close to signing with the Steelers, but that Baltimore was his first choice (Twitter link via Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic). Ingram, like Houston, is a complementary piece at this stage of his career, and his presence doesn’t necessarily give Pittsburgh any more leverage in Watt negotiations.

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Steelers Aiming For T.J. Watt Extension

No surprise here, but Steelers owner Art Rooney says he wants to keep T.J. Watt for the long haul (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Brooke Pryor). As it stands, the outside linebacker is scheduled to reach free agency after the 2021 season.

[RELATED: Steelers Release Steven Nelson]

We’re certainly going to try,” Rooney said. “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. That’s the goal.”

The Steelers exercised Watt’s fifth-year option to give him a $10.089MM salary in 2021. Historically, the Steelers have made it a point to extend key players when they’re a year away from free agency (and, by the same token, they’ve done their best to avoid those talks when stars are two years out). The Steelers could get ahead of the game by locking up the Pro Bowler this summer.

Watt, 27 in October, is coming off of his second straight All-Pro season and third consecutive Pro Bowl nod. Last year, he led the league with 15 sacks to bring his career tally to 49.5. A new deal won’t come cheap, but he’s the type of player the Steelers can’t afford to lose. Assuming the 2022 salary cap bounces back towards its usual max, Rooney should be able to get a deal done.

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Joe Haden Tests Positive For COVID-19

The Steelers look to be without another key defender to start the playoffs. Joe Haden tested positive for COVID-19, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reports.

Already down Bud Dupree and Devin Bush for the season’s remainder, the Steelers now face the prospect of playing without their most proven cornerback to start the playoffs. Haden is out for Week 17 against the Browns and, due to the 10-day isolation period required after a positive coronavirus test, the 11th-year cornerback would not be able to return for the Steelers’ wild-card game.

Shortly after the Browns released Haden in 2017, the former first-round pick bounced back with the Steelers. He has signed two Pittsburgh contracts and returned to the Pro Bowl. Haden’s arrival helped key a Steelers late-2010s defensive resurgence, and the AFC North champions have relied on that unit this season. But the team will not be close to full strength defensively when it opens the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 3 or No. 2 seed next week.

Haden’s three-year Steelers extension runs through next season, though the 31-year-old defender’s cap number spikes from $9.6MM to $15.6MM in 2021. He has started 56 games since signing with the Steelers, including 14 this season. On 79 targets this season, Haden has allowed a 50.6 completion percentage; Pro Football Focus grades him 45th overall among corners.

In addition to Haden being out for a game the Steelers are not exactly going all-out to win, the team will sit T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers declared Ben Roethlisberger out earlier this week.

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Steelers Exercise T.J. Watt’s Fifth-Year Option

The fifth-year option on T.J. Watt‘s contract has been picked up, according to a press release from the Steelers. With that, the linebacker will be under club control through the 2021 season. 

[RELATED: Steelers’ Dupree Signs Franchise Tender]

Watt, the younger brother of J.J. Watt, stepped out of his brother’s shadow while keeping with the family legacy of hard-nosed defense. Originally a tight end at Wisconsin, he switched to the other side of the ball midway through his career and delivered tremendous results off the edge. In 2016 – his first year as a starter – he notched 11.5 sacks. At the pro level, he’s gotten better and better each year.

In 2019, Watt managed 14.5 sacks and a league-leading eight forced fumbles en route to his best season yet. All in all, he’s got 34.5 career sacks, 177 stops, and 15 forced fumbles across three years. The exact figure on his option is not yet known, since he was drafted outside of the Top 10. Whatever the number is, it won’t be enough. Watt and the Steelers are expected to discuss an extension sooner rather than later to position him as one of the highest-paid edge rushers in the NFL. Meanwhile, he says his best work is still on the horizon.

It’s just working hard and getting more and more experience,” said Watt. “This was my second year playing the left side. I am just growing and learning how I can approach the game better, find out what works better for me as far as film study, practice and preparation. Hopefully I can keep taking those jumps as I progress in my career.”

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AFC North Notes: Jackson, Steelers, Bengals

The RavensLamar Jackson interest began before his junior year at Louisville. It escalated a few weeks before the 2018 draft. During a disagreement among Ravens staffers regarding quarterback preferences going into a draft that would have five QBs taken in the first round, John Harbaugh pronounced his willingness to build a new offense around the dual-threat passer.

If we draft Lamar, I’m good with that,” Harbaugh said during an hours-long discussion about Jackson (via The Athletic’s Dan Pompei, subscription required). “We can build an offense around him. We’ll play great special teams, great defense and be a ball-control offense. We’ll build a big, physical offensive line. We’ll get physical running backs. We’ll block on the perimeter. We’ll run all the elements of the college offense. We’ll do something different.”

After choosing Jackson, the Ravens rode some of Greg Roman‘s Colin Kaepernick-based concepts to a division title. Harbaugh, Roman and then-OC Marty Mornhinweg considered going back to Joe Flacco when the Ravens’ offense stalled for much of their wild-card loss to the Chargers, but each of Harbaugh’s assistants agreed Jackson gave the team the best chance to win. As for the Ravens’ 2019 offense, it will feature similar run designs to what was used last season. But Pompei adds the passing attack was considerably revamped in the offseason.

I expect this to change the way offensive football is played in the National Football League,” Harbaugh said. “Not that everybody is going to take on this style. But I expect us to create something that hasn’t been seen before. … I think we’re going to be in more elements than any team has ever been.”

Here is the latest from the AFC North, shifting first to Pittsburgh:

  • This weekend, Artie Burns is due an $800K bonus. If the Steelers are to move on from the former first-round pick who has not lived up to that billing, they would stand to limit their losses by doing so soon. Burns’ camp, however, is confident the fourth-year corner will still be a Steeler by week’s end, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Pittsburgh still has Joe Haden and Mike Hilton and added UFA addition Steven Nelson and third-round pick Justin Layne.
  • A hamstring injury will move T.J. Watt to the Steelers’ active/PUP list, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic tweets. The Pro Bowl outside linebacker should be expected to return fairly soon.
  • The Bengals placed Darqueze Dennard and running back Rodney Anderson on their active/PUP list. Dennard underwent offseason knee surgery, while Anderson’s college career ended after an ACL tear. The former Oklahoma running back is a candidate for the reserve/PUP list to start the season, per Fletcher Page of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Should Anderson stay on the PUP list to start the season, he must remain there for six regular-season weeks.

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Price, Browns

Two key Steelers will be changing positions. Pittsburgh’s outside linebacker starters, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, will swap spots, with Dupree shifting to the right outside linebacker role and Watt moving to the left side, Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes. Dupree’s issues with being too far behind quarterbacks on outside rushes, in a league that features mostly right-handed passers, prompted Keith Butler to relocate him.

What Bud did too much of last year, in my opinion, was he got past the quarterback,” Butler said. “To me, you’re useless when you’re past the quarterback. Now, he won’t be as useless behind the quarterback because he can work back a little bit or he can go up and under where the quarterback won’t see him.”

Although the Steelers exercised Dupree’s fifth-year option, the 2015 first-round pick has not lived up to expectations just yet. The Kentucky product rated as a bottom-10 edge defender, per Pro Football Focus, last season, but the Steelers will try to give him another opportunity to make good on their investment. Butler said the relative inexperience of the players involved in this switch prompted him to wait until the offseason to make this move.

I think I’m more natural on the left side just because I’m more right-hand dominant,” Watt said, via Benz. “I can have a better dip and a better stab. I have more pitches I can throw on the left side.”

Here’s the latest out of the AFC North, shifting to the division’s most pressing issue — Le’Veon Bell‘s status in Pittsburgh.

  • As less than a month remains until the pivotal extension deadline for franchise-tagged players, Bell has not shown up at Steelers workouts. This was expected. But as of last week, the Steelers had yet to resume contract talks with their All-Pro running back. And Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette puts the odds at an extension occurring as longer than the sides continuing their present arrangement. Fittipaldo writes Bell not reaching a long-term agreement would again induce him to skip training camp and the preseason. Of course, Bell and the Steelers failing to come to terms this year could well mean the 26-year-old dynamo will be playing elsewhere in 2019, considering the prohibitive cost for tagging a player three times.
  • Tyrod Taylor will be a free agent at season’s end, but one AFC executive views him as a player who could make Baker Mayfield wait a long time before taking the Browns‘ reins. “Tyrod Taylor could keep Baker Mayfield on the bench for years,” the anonymous staffer said, via Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report. This seems unlikely given the investment the Browns made in Mayfield, and the fact full redshirts for first-round QBs rarely occur anymore. But Taylor does have three years’ experience as a starter and has maybe the best cast of wide receivers he’s enjoyed since ascending to a starting role. That said, the risk-averse passer will need to be re-signed for this to occur. It would likely take Mayfield’s development stalling considerably for Cleveland to bring back Taylor.
  • Prior to the Lions taking Arkansas interior lineman Frank Ragnow with their first-round pick, the Bengals had he and Billy Price ranked “pretty much evenly,” Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com notes. After watching the Ohio State product operate this offseason, one that didn’t feature him becoming fully cleared until Monday, the Bengals believe Price might be a better fit for their offense rather than the player who was selected one spot ahead of him. He’s expected to be Cincinnati’s starting center from Day 1.

Steelers Sign First-Round Pick T.J. Watt

The Steelers signed first-round linebacker T.J. Watt, according to a team announcement. After also inking third-round cornerback Cameron Sutton this week, Pittsburgh has become the latest team to wrap up its 2017 draft class. T.J. Watt (vertical)

T.J. is a rock solid young man who has a lot of upside,” said Coach Mike Tomlin in a press release. “He doesn’t have a lot of experience at the position, but at the same time we saw some things that were exciting to us. His hand usage in particular for a guy with his short resume at the position was exciting. His production speaks for itself. He’s just a quality guy and a quality pick for us. We’re excited about continuing his development not only as a football player, but as an outside linebacker. That’s probably the most exciting element of the T.J. discussion. We are excited about the potential upside and growth given the short length of time he’s played the position.”

Watt, a Wisconsin product, finished the 2016 season with 17 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks. Last year was his first campaign as a starter and just his second season playing defense after switching from tight end. But, of course, hard-nosed defense runs in Watt’s blood.

I am a lunch pail kind of guy who yeah, I just got picked in the first round, but I am here to prove that I am worth that pick and I am worth much more than that as well,” said Watt, the younger brother of Texans superstar J.J. Watt. “I think some things come easy for me, like the transition over to defense. It came naturally to me, but at the same time there was so much work behind the scenes that no one ever saw. That’s what it’s so hard to put it into words. It is a lot of God-given ability, but it is so much work that no one will ever see. No one will ever know. It’s an insurmountable amount of work. That is how you get to places like this and get the opportunity to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It all pays off. It really does.”

Watt may wind up starting at one of the Steelers’ outside linebackers pots, putting him opposite of James Harrison with Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams in between. Former first-round pick Bud Dupree and Arthur Moats will also be pushing for playing time at OLB.

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