While drafting well is crucial to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ success, as with any other team, it is also essential to do good business. Retaining quality players at fair-price contracts while refraining from marrying themselves to those with more uncertain future production is the key to keeping the ship running at full steam, if they can continue to provide the talent.
They have, for the most part, managed that, even if it’s not reflected in their postseason success. Those who get paid, particularly those in-house, typically ‘earn’ their deals. And that is true even of Stephon Tuitt, who has spent much of his time since signing his contract extension dealing with injury.
In fact, to Pro Football Focus, it is the best contract the Steelers have, at five years, $60 million, with the guarantees in the deal long gone. He has two years remaining on his deal, with cap hits of $14.9 million and $12.4 million.
“Cameron Heyward is the interior defender with name recognition in Pittsburgh, and for good reason, but Stephon Tuitt is a star in his own right”, Brad Spielberger writes. “Since signing this extension in 2017, Tuitt has earned an 89.0 PFF grade (16th among interior defenders) with an 81.5 pass-rush grade (11th among interior defenders). His 29 tackles for loss or no gain also rank 11th among interior defenders, and his 170 pressures rank 10th”.
Tuitt is coming off the best season of his career in 2020 at the age of 27. While he missed one game due to COVID-19, he finished the year with 11 sacks, 25 hits, 45 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three passes defensed, and a pair of forced fumbles.
Conversely, PFF views Watt’s contract as the worst on the roster. I should probably be more specific and note that they refer to Derek Watt, the fullback, and T.J. Watt’s elder brother. He signed as a free agent last offseason on a three-year, $9.75 million deal, second-largest ever for a fullback.
“This is one of those contracts that falls in the poor relative value category”, Spielberger notes. “Watt is the second-highest-paid fullback in the NFL, at $3.25 million per year — one of just seven fullbacks making more than $1 million a year. In his first season in Pittsburgh in 2020, he finished with the 16th-best grade (42.0) among 19 fullbacks who played at least 25 offensive snaps. He does provide special teams value, but that’s probably not enough to justify this contract”.
In contrast to the rest of his career, Derek Watt’s first season in Pittsburgh was plagued by injury, and it is not clear if we should anticipate seeing him on the field more this year. He still somewhat surprisingly managed to log over 200 special teams snaps across 12 games, finishing with eight tackles, but only played 52 snaps on offense. He averaged more than double that over this first four years.