Stop the hand wringing. There is peace again in Pittsburgh.
Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt has agreed to a four-year extension worth more than $112 million, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday. The extension includes $80 million of fully guaranteed money, Rapoport added. Pittsburgh announced Friday it signed Watt to a new five-year deal.
The extension will pay Watt an average of $28.003 million per year, making him the highest-paid defensive player in the entire NFL.
It's a firm break from tradition for the Steelers, who aren't afraid to pay their stars, but typically don't guarantee money beyond the first season of an extension. Instead, they're guaranteeing Watt more than two-thirds of his extension's total value for injury, skill (performance) and any future cap constrictions.
If there was one player for which the Steelers should consider making an exception, it's the 2020 NFL sacks leader and now-perennial contender for AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Last season, Watt became the third player since 2006 to record 15 or more sacks and 40 or more quarterback hits in a season, joining the elite company occupied by only his brother, J.J., and Aaron Donald. Only Donald has more sacks (46.5) than T.J. Watt (42.5) since 2018.
With the regular season fast approaching and Watt still in his hold-in (until a return to the field Wednesday), the contract negotiations became a hot topic in the last few weeks. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spoke in support of Watt being paid Wednesday, and fellow young defensive star Minkah Fitzpatrick said Thursday he was monitoring Watt's negotiations with his own future contract talks in mind.
The Steelers could not afford to botch this. They didn't, backing up a Brinks truck to the doorstep of the two-time first-team All-Pro.
With little room to work with under the current cap, we can expect much of this deal to be accounted for in future years. But the agreement solves a massive question and returns Pittsburgh's pressure producer with zero cause for concern.