Leave it to the Pittsburgh Steelers to have their first ‘splash’ acquisition of an offseason be the signing of a fullback. The team signed three players as unrestricted free agents back in March, but the first to reach a deal was Derek Watt, coming in after spending the first four years of his career with the Los Angeles Chargers.
His addition consequently meant the departure of Roosevelt Nix, who had been James Conner’s fullback since he entered the league. The two of them forged a great relationship both on and off the field, but obviously, the writing is on the wall when your team makes the new fullback the second-highest-paid ever at the position, and so he requested and was granted his release, later hooking up with the Indianapolis Colts.
Watt didn’t play a lot in the Chargers’ offense, averaging something like 125 snaps per season, but he also averaged around 300 or so snaps on special teams every year. He also has a track record of being healthy, and of being an energy-bringer, and he’s an addition to the room that has James Conner fired up.
“It’s been awesome having Derek. He comes to work every day”, he told reporters earlier this week. “He’s a leader as well. He’s a leader in the classroom. He sets the tone there with his knowledge and how he’s picking things up. On the field, he brings energy. So, excited to be with Derek. He has a great resume. He’s gonna help our team out a lot, especially on special teams as well, the way he comes down on kickoffs, and as a fullback, so he does it all”.
Derek is, of course, the elder (middle) brother of T.J. Watt, the Steelers’ start outside linebacker. Pittsburgh signed him to a three-year, $9.75 million contract, which based on yearly average is the second-largest contract for a fullback in the league behind only the guy in San Francisco whose name I would have to look up to type properly, and I say this as a person with eastern European ancestry (if you couldn’t tell by my last name).
That doesn’t mean Nix won’t be missed. He had a great relation with Conner, and with Le’Veon Bell before him. He basically convinced the Steelers that true fullbacks still matter after they started dipping their toes back into that pool with David Johnson and then Will Johnson.
Now they have Watt, and they’re paying him in a way that strongly indicates they plan to use him and to keep him around. That doesn’t mean he’s going to see 300-plus snaps on offense, but his impact, both on and off the field, will probably be bigger than a lot of fans may realize, wondering why they pay him so much.