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.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.