With just days to go before the Pittsburgh Steelers open their regular-season schedule on the road against a very tough Buffalo Bills team, the only thing anybody seems to be talking about is business—specifically the contract negotiations between the front office and the representatives of outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
While Watt has returned to the practice field this week in preparation for play, the two sides continue to persevere toward a long-term contract extension that would prevent him from being a free agent in March. By this point, everybody has seemingly expressed an opinion about how that is going, and if it should be going at all. But it’s not the players’ concern what the outside chatter is.
“It’s not a distraction. This is what every person has to go through in their job”, defensive captain Cameron Heyward told reporters earlier today prior to practice. “It just gets more publicized here. T.J.’s been a professional. He’s come out to practice. He’s locked in during meetings. That’s where it’s at”.
Watt is expected to become the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, topping Joey Bosa’s $27 million-per-year deal signed last year, and possibly reaching upwards of $30 million per year. He has been one of the best players in football over the past two years, and Heyward is on record in saying that he ought to be paid commensurate with what he brings to the team.
Still, many found it curious that Watt was not voted a team captain this year, as he was last year. The Steelers had five captains in total in 2020, two on offense and defense apiece and one on special teams, though; this year, they’ve gone with only three.
“I was surprised”, Heyward admitted about Watt not being voted captain, “but we have plenty of leaders on this team. Just because I get the title of captain doesn’t mean I’m the only one who speaks. T.J.’s been a leader, Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu. All of these guys have had a say-so in our defense, and are leaders in our defense, and in the community. It’s just a title. It doesn’t change anything in how we do business”.
It is unclear how or why the Steelers only ended up with three captains this year and why Watt, no matter the number, was not one of them. But Heyward speaks to the point that leadership goes beyond titles, and maintains that the locker room is full of those who lead the team in their own way, Watt being one of them.