There is never a lower time in a high-level player’s professional career than when he is in the process of negotiating a new contract, as far as the public eye is concerned. Magnify that by a decision not to formally participate in offseason practices while the negotiating is underway, and you’re going to see a lot of people saying things about that player that they might come to regret in a short amount of time.
There were a lot of people in our own comments section, for example, tearing T.J. Watt a new one during training camp because he was not participating in team practices, instead working out on his own off to the side, but still involved in every other way. While he always had the in-house support, he admits “it was tough” not to be on the field during that time.
“I wanted more than anything to be out there participating with my teammates and coaches, but the business side of things sometimes gets in the way”, he told Mark Kaboly of The Athletic recently (behind a paywall). “It was just part of life at the time. I was doing everything I could possibly do to show those guys in the weight room, off to the side, that I was preparing to the best of my abilities and that I was invested as much as they were”.
It all paid off in the long run, both literally and figuratively. Not only did the negotiations yield the largest defensive contract in NFL history and break a longstanding Steelers contract precedent in limiting non-quarterback guarantees to the first year, but he also played so well that he won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in what can be categorized as a landslide.
I don’t recall Watt’s ‘hold-in’ being much discussed during the season. It proved to be a non-factor for somebody who was still in the class room, in the film room, in the weight room, and one the field working on his own throughout that time. Still, some felt then, and some would still feel now, that he should have been participating in team practices because he was under contract. Maybe so, but he always had the support of the entire organization in that process.
“More than anything else, I wanted to let my teammates know that I cared about them. I know it could come off as selfish and all of those things, but they were supportive the whole time”, Watt told the outlet. “After I signed my deal, I thanked every single one of the guys in there, not only teammates but coaches, for not talking smack about me to my face or behind my back about how selfish the process could’ve looked”.
Of course, it is ‘selfish’, but that’s what negotiating a contract is. The object of negotiating is to get what you feel you’re worth, and every individual is within their rights to try to maximize their earnings for their services. The Steelers decided on a price they were willing to pay, and I don’t suspect they have any regrets just yet.