The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: T.J. Watt is the most indispensable player on the Steelers.
Explanation: I’m trying to make the statement as general as possible, but you can factor in a number of variables. A healthy franchise quarterback is always, almost by necessity, the most valuable player in any given year, but if you take a broader picture, and considering the timeline of their careers, you can make the case for somebody else. I’m making that case for T.J. Watt, going into his third year, whereas Ben Roethlisberger may be at or near the end of his road.
First of all, don’t be surprised when Watt is co-captain for the defense next year with Cameron Heyward. I’m not sure when’s the last time somebody has earned captain honors for the Steelers on offense or defense by his fourth season, but he’s clearly earned it, and I expect him to step up in a leadership role in a major way in 2020.
He is just entering the prime of his career right now, and is already a dominant player. The pass rusher is the second-most important person on the field behind the passer, and if you can get the other team’s passer on the ground enough, or to influence enough of his throws, you can really compensate a lot for your own passer.
Just in terms of the timeline, Watt is going to be here a lot longer than Roethlisberger is. Watt has maybe another decade. Roethlisberger has two years, and that’s assuming he even makes it back this year. To answer the question simply, Watt is the last player I would want to remove from this roster to never see again.
The championship window is tied to the quarterback position. Without a championship-level quarterback, or at least one capable of turning it on in the postseason, you don’t win. Just look at the past two decades or so of Super Bowl winners. Between Patrick Mahomes and Jimmy Garoppolo, this year will be no different (you’re a fool if you look at Garoppolo’s postseason stats).
In other words, two years of a franchise quarterback is worth more than 10 years of a pass rusher on a roster without one. You have a chance in those two years that you don’t in the other eight.
And besides, coverage outweighs even a pass rush. You saw how Minkah Fitzpatrick transformed the defense. Fitzpatrick is Watt’s favorite player at this point. Teams don’t even want to throw to him. And he’s even younger than Watt. If there is any defender who is the least expendable to this roster long-term, it’s him, not Watt. But when you have a franchise quarterback, that is always the automatic answer.