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 will be the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history at the time that he signs an extension in 2021.
Explanation: Earlier this month, fellow draft classmate Myles Garrett signed a five-year, $25 million-per-year contract extension with the Cleveland Browns. Watt can be argued to be the better player, even though he was drafted later, a first-team All-Pro and finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Other top defensive players who are due for a new contract next year are looking at Garrett’s contract as a baseline deal, and Watt’s name is at or near the top of that list. It’s unquestionable that the Steelers are going to take care of him and pay him whatever he needs to be paid, at market value, to keep him around for as long as possible.
With 14 and a half sacks and eight forced fumbles last season, he was a terror, and a strong case can be made that he was indeed the best defender in the NFL last year. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t put together another great season that will bolster his case for being the highest-paid defensive player when he signs a new extension.
One factor that has to be taken into consideration is the economic impact of the coronavirus. While a contract can be structured to have bigger cap hits later in the deal, the two parties may opt for a more short-team deal with the idea of doing a larger one later on down the road to address the economic factor.
But there’s also the obvious reality that many do consider Garrett the better and more talented player. First-overall picks always get paid at a scale above others of equal skill, too, so that has to be taken into consideration.
The 2019 season that Watt put in was one of the greatest by a Steelers edge defender ever. You might even be able to make the case that it was the best, if you really wanted to try. The odds of repeating that are low. If he has a merely good to very good season, he’s not going to command $25 million per season.
Also, unrestricted free agents get paid more. Players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2021: Yannick Ngakoue, Joey Bosa, Shaquil Barrett, Matthew Judon, Bud Dupree, and Von Miller. There are probably others in-line for extensions as well.