2021 South Side Questions: Will Steelers Break Precedent To Get Watt Deal Across Finish Line?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. It ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense. Multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. Right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?

These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.

Question: Will the Steelers break with precedent to get T.J. Watt signed?

It is now Tuesday, September 7. The Steelers play their regular-season opener on the road against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, September 12. T.J. Watt, the Steelers’ best football player, full stop, has not participated in a single team practice for the entire offseason, though he has been involved in every other way, and has done work off to the side on his own.

Watt’s reason for not practicing is well known by now. He’s in the midst of a monumental contract negotiation with the Steelers’ front office, the most significant contract talk that the team has had, frankly, in many years. One that could potentially be precedent-breaking, or rather, precedent-forming.

The main holdup is most likely, as we have discussed, the matter of guaranteed money, and specifically guaranteed money beyond the first year. Outside of first-round rookie contracts in which that structure is built-in, this is simply something that the Steelers ‘don’t do’, just like they don’t negotiate contracts in-season…anymore. Just like they don’t include incentives in their deals…anymore.

Just like they refuse to rework a player’s contract prior to his last year for non-quarterbacks…except when they did it, twice, for Antonio Brown. Just like they keep the guaranteed portion of a non-quarterback deal below 50 percent—often around 25 percent—except when they guaranteed $16.8 million of Joe Haden’s $22 million extension in 2019.

The Steelers make adjustments in extraordinary circumstances when they want to get something done. They don’t always do that. They didn’t for Le’Veon Bell. Will they do it for Watt?

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