The Pittsburgh Steelers had a great top of the draft in 2017, landing a trio of Pro Bowlers in the first three rounds. While their top pick has really separated himself from the rest, the others are coming off a down year marred by injuries. But all three of them are now in the contract discussion period.
Bucky Brooks recently weighed in on the status of T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner for the Steelers. Paying Watt is obviously a no-brainer, even if it doesn’t happen until next year. “You have to make sure that he is paid”, he said. “The Pittsburgh Steelers lean on their outside linebackers to be playmakers. He has proven to be worth his weight in gold”.
“T.J. Watt is one of the most disruptive players off the edge”, Brooks added of one of the finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year Award last season. “His ability to knock the ball loose from quarterbacks is really remarkable. He has shown that he can get to the quarterback consistently, he can make these splash plays that really are game-changers, because turnovers are everything in the National Football League”.
As for Smith-Schuster and Conner, they had Pro Bowl years in 2018, each of them producing over 1400 yards from scrimmage, but they had their figures halved or worse in 2019. Combined, they missed a total of 10 games, so that’s part of it. Brooks’ assessment of these two was far harsher.
“Both guys have been to the Pro Bowl. Both guys were expected to be key pieces of this offense when you let Le’Veon Bell go and when AB departs. They were disappointing”, he said. “We haven’t seen the same level of performance that we saw during their Pro Bowl years when they were complementary pieces. I don’t know if either one of these guys will get the big payday, because they haven’t proven that they can be A-level players when everyone was depending on them”.
Of course, there are too many extenuating circumstances when discussing the 2019 season to paint a clear picture. The loss of Ben Roethlisberger in Week Two changed the entire complexion of the offense, affecting both the passing game and the running game. And then both of them dealt with injuries themselves on top of everything else.
No matter the excuses, of course, that just sets up 2020 as a crucial make-or-break year as they look to solidify themselves as A-level players, and to be paid accordingly. They have the talent to do so. They presumably have the opportunity to do so.
For the Steelers’ sake, they should hope that they do, because it gives them the best chance of winning the Super Bowl this year, even if it means parting with both of them in 2021.