T.J. Watt’s stance has been clear. He won’t practice in full until he and the Pittsburgh Steelers agree to a long-term deal. So despite the fact Pittsburgh plays its Week 1 opener against Buffalo this Sunday, Watt’s practice status did not change during Monday’s session. That’s according to multiple beat reporters via Steelers’ spokesman Burt Lauten.
According to the Steelers, Watt’s practice participation has not changed. Meaning, just as he did throughout training camp, Watt went through individual sessions and did some work on the side. But he did not participate in full team sessions. The next one he does will be his first of this year.
He and the Steelers are still negotiating a long-term deal that will make him the highest-paid defensive player in football and perhaps the first $30 million average yearly value defender. Both sides have remained adamant they want to get a deal done. But a big, complicated deal and the Steelers’ old-school ways of constructing contracts are making this process drag out right until the last moment. Pittsburgh does not negotiate contracts once the season has begun.
There should still be optimism a contract is put in place before the Steelers’ opener. But Watt has missed a large amount of time and certainly won’t be able to play his usual percentage of snaps against the Bills. Over the last three years, he’s played between 83 and 87% of the defense’s snaps. Melvin Ingram will likely see a heavier workload rotating in with Watt along with Alex Highsmith, who starred in camp and looks ready to make the second-year leap. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler even speculates Watt may not play at all in the opener if a deal isn’t reached soon.
Mike Tomlin is scheduled to hold his weekly press conference Tuesday at noon and almost assuredly be asked about Watt’s situation and outlook.