From a national media perspective, the biggest non-story for the Pittsburgh Steelers so far during training camp has been the practice status of T.J. Watt, their All-Pro pass rusher, who has been attending practices but working on his own off to the side as he negotiates a new, potentially record-breaking, contract extension.
Now entering his fifth season, Watt has made the Pro Bowl each of the past three seasons, and been a first-team All-Pro each of the past two, in addition to being a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, which he could have easily won either time.
Thus, some may question whether or not he needs to be on the field, and perhaps he doesn’t right now, but everyone wants him on the field. “Everybody needs practice”, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said yesterday. “Everybody does. It doesn’t matter who you are”.
“But that’s really none of my business. His business is to try to get done what he wants to get done”, he continued. “Do I want him on the practice field? Yeah, sure, I do. I want him on the practice field when we can get him on the field. But at the same time, I want him to be happy on the practice field, not dadgum begrudging all this stuff. I don’t think he would be; I’m just saying I hope they get it done. I’m for both sides. I’m for Mr. Rooney and T.J. I’m for both of them”.
I certainly don’t think that Watt would be ‘dadgum begrudging his way through practice if he were indeed on the field in a participatory capacity, but that’s not the issue. It is reasonable, if not advisable, that a player not risk injury on the field while he is in the middle of a massive contract negotiation that both sides are committed to.
Many have conjectured that Watt can become the first defensive player in NFL history to hit an average of $30 million per season on his new contract. Myles Garrett, and then Joey Bosa, reset the bar for defensive players last offseason with their own extensions, Bosa topping out at $27 million.
The Steelers have a hard and fast policy when it comes to contracts. One, they don’t negotiate in-season anymore. Two, they don’t negotiate with players who don’t show up. Hines Ward, and later Mike Wallace, would learn this the hard way.
Watt is here, and he’s getting in his own work on his own. He’s in the meetings and knows everything there is to know about the defense that is relevant to his success. The deal will get done sooner or later…perhaps sooner rather than later.
And once it’s behind us, the story will be entirely forgotten, except as an anecdote to cite the next time a player of his stature is at practice but not participating while negotiating a contract, as Cameron Heyward did last year, according to Mike Tomlin.